Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How To Raise Grateful Children?

The Question:
During this giving time of year I have spent some time pondering this question. How do you teach your children to be grateful for whatever they are given? I suspect a heart full of gratitude something you can instill in your child, but how do you go about doing it?

The Answer:
As parents, we naturally try to teach our children manners. We encourage them to say "thank you" as they leave a birthday party or receive a gift. But as in all other outward expressions, what we are really after is inward feelings. We can tell when a child is truly grateful and, really, is there anything more wonderful? Everyone loves to be around a grateful child and enjoys doing things for them.

I have two suggestions. The first is fairly obvious but difficult to do. We do not give our children everything they want. I remember a time when we lived in Georgia. Our neighbor invited our 8 year old daughter Marlee to go to the mall with her daughter. When she came home, she could barely breathe, she was so excited. They had eaten at the food court, bought bags of candy at the candy store and she was even given a new Cinderella watch! It wasn't a birthday or any special occasion--just a trip to the mall. I called to thank our neighbor for this generous gesture and she said, "Marlee was so grateful! She tried not to take the watch but when I bought it for her anyway, she thanked me again and again. It was so fun!" On her own, Marlee wrote a letter of thanks and took it over the next day. Was I an expert teacher of manners? No. Marlee was one of 8 children and had never been indulged in that way. She understood that toys and gifts were only given on special occasions and often at a sacrifice. She had learned not to even ask for things. She had learned to be happy with what she had and her gratitude was sincere and abundant--even when gifts were far less dramatic.

As family sizes have dropped and prosperity has increased, teaching gratitude has become a little more tricky. We have to resist the temptation to run out and buy everything our kids want or even seem to need, when they need it. Their real needs are met as we spend time with them. When you are standing in the store debating about whether to buy them this "thing" that you know would make them so happy, resist. Go home and read with them, take a walk, teach them a new song. Children who are given a steady stream of things, come to expect them. Why should they be grateful?

A second aspect of gratitude is, oddly enough, hard work. I'm not sure why they are linked but I know that they are. My mother used to say (and she was very wise) "As soon as my children start to whine or seem ungrateful, it's my signal that they aren't working hard enough. It's time to plan some big work projects for them." It's true! It never fails. Last summer, I planned a large physical work project for each morning. We worked in the garden, cleaned the garage, detailed the cars, burned slash in our woods. I was prepared for complaints. Instead, there were numerous expressions of gratitude--for the popsicles at the end of a hot job, for lunch, for letting them have a friend over later.

Sometimes, our children become ungrateful when we let them order us around. We are obligated to provide all of their basic needs, but beyond that, our efforts are gifts that they can appreciate. When they are demanding, we should simply say, "I'm sorry, I can't help you right now." With the demands of running a household, we really aren't always at their disposal. Go over the things you have to do before you can play a game, give them a ride, or help with homework and encourage them to help you. And don't forget to get right down on their level and express gratitude for any of their efforts.

When our children seem spoiled and bratty, it's probably something we're doing. It's time to step back and institute some changes. We want to enjoy them and we want others to appreciate them as well. Isn't it funny that the solution is usually to give them less, not more?


  1. Perfect. I love this. My parents raised 8 children and my Mom use to say, "It's a blessing when parents can't afford to buy everything their children want."

  2. Hi! I just discovered your blog from Jill and I have to say that I truly enjoyed reading this post. It really struck me and I am grateful for the timing of it all. I look forward to following this blog and gleaming such great insight from you!

  3. This is great advice. I have been annoyed by my daughter's bratty behavior as of late; you reminded me that my mom was the same way. We didn't get stuff except for birthdays or a holiday. I think it was good for us. Thanks for the reminder - back to basics in this house!

  4. Once again...excellent insight and definitely somethings I need to work on...keep the wisdom flowing!

  5. I just discovered your blog today and wanted to drop you a short line and tell you that I think you both, Natalie and Jane, are wonderful and how valuable I think this blog is. I can't wait to finish going through the archives and keeping up with your new posts!


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