Encouraging children to express gratitude

A new poll offers insight into what parents are doing to encourage young children to express gratitude.

The holiday season offers a chance to reflect on what we’ve been given and express our gratitude for it. The newest poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers insight into how parents teach their children about gratitude and how those children express it.1 The 1125 parents included in the study had children aged 4 to 10 years.

When asked whether they felt that children were grateful for what they had, 81% of parents said that they did not think so. Nearly half of the parents worried that they were giving too much to their children and 42% said that they had been embarrassed by their child’s selfishness in the past. Almost all parents agreed that children can be taught to be grateful and 63% said that their family has daily conversations about what they have and their gratefulness for it.

Parents were also asked how they endeavored to encourage shows of gratitude. To this question, 88% of parents said they regularly encouraged their child to say please and thank you, with the rest only doing so occasionally or rarely. Chores were a regular fact of life for children in 60% of families, occasionally for 34%, and rarely for 6%. Other strategies that parents used included having their child donate toys or clothes to charitable organizations, write thank-you cares for gifts, and say prayers. Some of the parents even encouraged their child to donate the child’s own money to a charity.

Teaching gratitude was a high priority for over 75% of the parents; only 2% said that it was a low priority. Parents who stated that it was a high priority were more likely to state that their child was regularly encouraged to say please and thank you, donate items to charity, write thank-you cards, perform chores to help with the running of the household, and donate money to charities. Outside of the home, 63% of parents involve their child in some sort of service activities, such as helping neighbors (50%) and school clean-up days (35%).

When discussing the implications of the poll, the investigators noted that unlike many other traits, gratitude is not something that is automatically developed. It required age-appropriate encouragement. The most common strategy of encouraging please and thank you was one way to promoted gratitude, but it’s important for parents to teach the difference between politeness and gratitude, which they can do by explaining why they’re asking their child to say thanks and encourage using “thank you for…” instead.

Reference

1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Parent efforts to teach children about gratitude. 2021;39(5). Published November 22, 2021. Accessed December 1, 2021. https://mottpoll.org/reports/parent-efforts-teach-children-about-gratitude