Building Thankful Kids One Habit at a Time


e’ve all heard it: “Kids these days… they just aren’t grateful for anything!” Most of us have even said it. And, truth be told, we probably heard our parents say it when we were young. Spoiler alert: Your parents’ parents’ parents probably said the same thing. And on some level, they were probably right. Every last one of them.

Gratitude in children, or lack thereof, has been a topic of parental discussion for as long as there have been parents and children. But instruction on how to instill gratitude in our kids can be contradictory. Child psychologists offer differing advice, as do educators, counselors, children’s ministers, and other experts on children and parenting. PBS contributor Jessica Efird suggests that it’s OK to fake gratitude if you don’t feel it, while private practice counselor and author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (Or Anyone Who Acts Like One) Dr. Deborah MacNamara insists that we need to move beyond superficiality and teach our children to get in touch with their feelings in order to sincerely offer thanks. 

While experts don’t always agree on all the best ways to instill gratitude in children, there is one common piece of advice that the overwhelming majority offer to parents: If you want your kids to be grateful, show them what gratitude looks like by your example. 

So, how do we do that? No one has a perfect answer, and none of us are perfectly grateful all the time. But perhaps one way we could start is by incorporating some of the methods experts suggest we teach our children into our own lives. 

One habit we can cultivate is saying “thank you” often. Our children should hear us thanking one another, thanking public servants, thanking those who serve us in restaurants and stores. We should also make it a regular habit to thank them when they are thoughtful. They need to hear it. More than that, they need to see it modeled.

There are innumerable ideas out there about how to instill gratitude in your children, and most of them are pretty good ideas. But the best way to both test them out and to teach them to your kids, is to incorporate them into and practice them in your own life. Gratitude, like many of the great virtues, is easier caught than taught.