HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

The grateful child

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By Leslie Crawford

Perking up the pessimists

Interestingly, Froh found that children who are already more emotionally positive do not benefit as much from gratitude interventions. “Compared with those low in positive emotions, they may have hit an emotional ‘ceiling,’” says Froh. “In other words, if on a scale of 1 to 10 a child is already an 8 when measured by qualifiers like happiness and optimism, he may not be much helped by being taught to be more grateful.” But a gratitude intervention for a child who is only a 5 “may give him the boost he needs to experience well-being.”

Teaching the attitude of gratitude

So how to take these newfound scientific findings and apply them? While gratitude journals and thank-you visits can be valuable exercises for a child, simple day-to-day methods may reap the greatest long-term results.

Start by walking children through the thoughts of gratitude. As in, “Wow, because your friend Jeremy skipped his soccer game and helped you with your homework, you did great on your math test.” Froh also encourages parents not to dictate how children express their thanks, but to let them show gratitude in whatever way is most comfortable — from a picture to a favor in return.

Finally and most notably, as Froh points out, children learn best when grownups model the very behavior they’d like to see in their kids.

“It’s monkey see, monkey do,” says Froh. Whether it’s presenting a bouquet of flowers to a babysitter for staying extra late or delivering a thank-you note to the school janitor for his hard work, your actions speak louder than all the “how ‘bout a little gratitude” harangues.

And nothing teaches gratitude better than openly expressing your own thankfulness for what you have (instead of grumbling about what you don’t). Gradually, your child will absorb an invaluable message: That to show and give thanks is its own reward.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from readers

"I wasn't going to post, but then I realized that I am grateful for the timeliness of this article. Thank you!"
"Allowing your children to donate their time and gifts to charities will also help them appreciate what they have. BTW for the poster on 11/20/09, when you think about all of the extra personal money and personal time that teachers spend on their students because they want them to succeed you will realize that teachers are underpaid for what they do. Many teachers spend countless unpaid hours outside of school day hours working and preparing for the job. You don't see this because you are not there. And teachers do spend a lot of their own money on supplies and/or equipment for the classroom."
"thank you for this article"
"Interesting article. I would like to comment on the poster of 11/20/09 who claims not to have received a single thank-you note from school staff. Please do not generalize. As a teacher I was offended by the comment, as I spend substantially more than 'several hundred dollars' on my classroom (try $3000+), and make sure that every donation of time and supplies is acknowledged with a thank-you note. I definitely do NOT make more money than the parents at my school, and with severe budget cuts I have to rely on their kindness to make my classroom run efficiently. I do not ask them to donate for '...birthdays, and other school pet projects..,' but my wishlist includes permanent markers, three-ring binders, tissues for runny noses, and reams of paper. And let me tell you, I am very grateful to have these wonderful parents who understand that we are underpaid as it is. "
"Thanks for sharing the gratitude research with us. As always, the best method for instilling positive values in our children is parental role-modeling. A great reminder of the importance for ALL of us to be content and thankful, whatever our situation."
"Very nice, very practical, very timely."
"What surpirses me is the ingratitude from the school staff. They ask, ask, and ask. We give, give and give. I have spent several hundred dollars on 'wishlists', birthdays, and other school pet projects (some of which I think were COMPLETE wastes of money). I have donated time and supplies. I have yet to receive one measly hand-written thank-you note. This isn't like when I was a kid; teachers make good money. "
"Great! Thanks!"