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  • Here's How You Can Teach Your Child to Say Thank You and Mean It

    Your children have a lot to gain from learning about gratitude and practicing it every day.
    by Kate Borbon .
Here's How You Can Teach Your Child to Say Thank You and Mean It
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Among the many things we always hear parents tell their children to do or say, one of them is most likely the phrase “Thank you” — which usually happens when kids receive gifts. But while they may immediately oblige at their parents’ prodding, how sure are we that children really, truly understand what those words mean, and why it’s so important to learn how to be grateful?

    The science behind gratitude

    In an article for Greater Good magazine, Andrea Hussong, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill and director of the Center for Developmental Science, discusses what parents usually fail to remember when teaching their children about gratitude.

    “Today, psychologists studying gratitude note that being grateful means much more than just saying thank you,” Hussong writes. “Not only is the experience and expression of gratitude broader than thanking others but it requires children to use a set of complex socio-emotional skills.”

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    Several studies have explored the science of gratitude and why it is a useful value to foster not only in children but also in adults. These studies generally echo the same conclusion: that gratitude has the power to improve a person not just on a personal level but even with regards to that person’s relationships and general outlook on the world.

    An article on the lifestyle and parenting website Motherly tackles 10 benefits of exercising gratitude, based on a study done by gratitude expert Dr. Robert Emmons:

    • Overall better feeling about their lives
    • Higher levels of positive emotions such as optimism and happiness
    • Kindness and generosity towards others
    • Fewer symptoms of physical pain
    • Healthier lifestyle
    • Better sleep
    • More regular visits to the doctor (for check-ups)
    • Less stress
    • Ability to handle stress better and recover more easily from stressful situations
    • Longer average lifespan

    Other researchers have also cited other good effects of having an attitude of gratitude, including the ability to let go of toxic emotions, motivation to participate in charity-related causes, and generally improved mental health over time.

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    How you can instill gratitude in your kids

    To teach children to consistently exercise an attitude of gratitude, Prof. Hussong presents a framework based on a study conducted by her team of researchers from UNC Chapel Hill—the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO model.

    To further illustrate each part of the model, Hussong includes some questions that parents can ask their children to process their experiences with gratitude.

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    NOTICE

    • What is something you have in your life that you are grateful for?
    • Is the person who gave you that gift someone that you also feel grateful for?

    THINK

    • Why do you think you were given this gift?
    • Do you feel that you need to give something to that person in return?
    • Do you think you were given that gift because you did something to earn it?
    • Do you think you were given that gift because the giver felt he or she needed to give you something?

    FEEL

    • How do you feel that you were given this gift?
    • What about that gift makes you feel that way?

    DO

    • Is there something you want to do to show how you feel about this gift?
    • Do you feel like you want to share the feeling you have with another person by also giving them a gift?
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    What else can you do?

    When it comes to learning about gratitude, the best example still comes from parents. After all, it is you whom your children constantly look up to as their basis on how to act. Here are some things you can do to embrace gratitude in your own life, and to teach your child to do the same.

    Practice what you preach

    The first thing to keep in mind is this: It’s what your kids see you do that will be planted in their minds most deeply, and which will translate into the way they act. If you yourself exercise gratitude, your children will learn from your example.

    Don’t spoil your child

    Most of the time, it can be tempting to just give in to what your child demands you to do for or give him or her, just so that they would stop whining or crying. But though this may satisfy them now, what you’re only doing is teaching them not to value what they already have, because you’re always going to give them what they want anyway. As a result, instead of feeling grateful for what they have, their appreciation for the blessings they experience everyday dwindles.

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    Teach them the value of money

    Whether we admit it or not, money is a very valuable asset in everyday life, since virtually nothing ever comes free. If you want to raise a grateful child, it’s important to teach them how valuable money is from a young age. Teach them that you have to work hard to get what you want — whether that involves working or being wise about spending money.

    Help them be aware

    Being aware about the poverty that many people in this country experience can be a great way to put things into perspective and to remind ourselves to be grateful about what we have. The same goes for children. If participating in charity causes is something you enjoy, encourage your kids to go with you, so that they can also learn to appreciate the good things they have. Who knows, this might help create a passion for service in them!

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    Make gratefulness a habit

    One more great way to incorporate gratitude in your child is by making the act of saying “Thank you” a habit. From people they encounter regularly to just naming one thing they’re thankful for every day, encouraging the habit of saying that simple phrase will make it easier for your child to realize the good things, both big and small, that they experience daily.

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