Smiling pajama-clad little girl holding a wrapped gift in front of a Christmas tree


Is it Time for a Gratitude Adjustment?

The act of expressing thanks teaches kids more than just manners

Encouraging your child to say “thank you” – whether it’s with a card, phone call or other heartfelt gesture – is a critical social skill that will serve them well not just during the holidays, but also throughout their life. In fact, a slew of studies have shown that being thankful can significantly boost your child’s happiness and increase their overall state of well-being.

“Research now proves that the happiest and most empathic children are the ones who feel a sense of appreciation for life,” reveals Michele Borba, Ph.D., educational psychologist, parenting expert and author of Don’t Give Me That Attitude! “Those studies show that because kids feel grateful, they are actually more joyful, determined, optimistic, resilient, less stressed and even healthier.”

Instill year-round gratitude in your child by:

Practicing Good Behavior
“The fastest way to boost character is through example,” declares Borba. So the more you show thanks for everyday considerations that might otherwise go unnoticed, the more likely your children will follow suit. Let your kids see you conveying your appreciation with hugs, kind words, hand-picked flowers, a handwritten note… even a quick email or thank you text sent with a smiling selfie is a genuine show of gratitude you can model to your children. Don’t limit your praise to only those you know well, either – a warm thank you to a helpful acquaintance or stranger can make an even greater impression on your child.

Managing Letdowns
Even the sweetest kid can stumble into brat territory when hit with disappointment, such as a birthday gift that’s wildly age-inappropriate or has nothing to do with their interests. “A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they’re really thanking the person not for the gift, but for the thoughtfulness behind it,” says Borba. Make that an easier pill to swallow by reminding your child of the time and consideration that goes into gift-giving, and that any present selected for them by a loved one is gifted in the genuine hope of bringing them joy. Borba also suggests practicing enthusiastic (but not fake) thank yous with your child prior to any occasion where they may receive a gift.

Personalizing Appreciation
Gratitude isn’t learned from lectures, but routines, stresses Borba. “Start simple family rituals that will help your children adopt an attitude of gratitude and appreciate their fortunes.” One way she suggests doing that is helping kids count their blessings every night by reviewing all of the things – and people – they’re grateful for, and why. You can turn it into a game by challenging them to acknowledge at least three things they’re thankful for about every member of the family, picking a new individual each night.

Children and adolescents are naturally self-centered; it’s up to parents to teach them the art of giving thanks. But the sooner kids learn to embrace and practice gratitude, the greater their chances will be for a happier, more fulfilled life.