How do you raise kids that don’t just say thank you but mean it too? How do you fight the factors leading to entitled and materialistic children? GreatSchools queried three scholars who shared their informed opinions on combatting materialism, oxytocin parenting, and deepening gratitude in our children. Armed with these 10 tips, you can upgrade the “attitude of gratitude” in your household.
Tim Kasser, Ph.D, is the author of The High Price of Materialism and co-editor of Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World. He’s an activist seeking to provide children with lives of “inward richness” instead of shallow consumerism and sits on the steering committee of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. He provided four tips you can’t put a price on to combat materialism in children:
1. Think about the values that you are modeling as a parent. Research shows that when parents hold materialist values to be important, their children take on those values. If you spend your time working long hours, shopping a lot, watching television, talking about and making money, etc., you are modeling to your child that materialistic aims in life are important. The child will then imitate those values.
2. Reduce the extent to which your child is exposed to other materialistic models. Consider following the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics: No screen time at all for children younger than 2, and less than 2 hours per day of screen usage for older children.
3. When your children do encounter advertisements, critique them. One study showed that when children see advertisements and adults make factual comments (such as “Those commercials are intended to sell.”) or evaluative comments (“That commercial is wrong; it doesn’t look like that.”), children’s desire for the products declines. A game kids are likely to enjoy is to hit mute when a commercial comes on and make up your own funny dialogue for the advertisement message.
4. Encourage healthier values in your children. Research on the human value system show that intrinsic values for personal growth (such as following your own interests and curiosity), affiliation (having good relationships) and community feeling (trying to make the world a better place) stand in conflict with materialistic values. By encouraging intrinsic values, materialistic values will decline.
Susan Kuchinskas is the author of Oxytocin Parenting and The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy, and Love. She provided the following practical guidance on fostering gratitude in your home.
1. Teach your child to be grateful by modeling it in an emotionally genuine way. You can feel and express gratitude for both big and little things in daily life (“The clerk at the supermarket was so nice. She made me smile.”) If you model gratitude for your child, you are helping create an emotional habit — biochemically and neurologically — that will shape your child’s responses in a positive way.
2. Thankfulness at mealtime and bedtime. When you eat dinner with your child, and when you put them to bed at night, think back on the day together and discuss what you are grateful for. It could be in line with a religious belief, such as saying grace, or it could be secular.
3. Journaling about positive events in your life. Expressing gratefulness can initiate oxytocin release. The oxytocin response is provoked not only in face-to-face interaction but also in phone conversations, Internet communications, or just thinking about things you are grateful for and people you are grateful to.
Dacher Keltner is an author, psychology professor, and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley. Greater Good recently launched a three-year, $5.6 million project, called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. (GreatSchools is also contributing to this project.) He recommends:
1. Make sure your children grapple with the suffering that is in the world. Climate change, hungry children, decline of species — understanding suffering and need is the basis for developing appreciation for life.
2. Have your children experience awe and deep beauty on a regular basis. Nature and museums for example help open children’s eyes and minds to the vastness of life. For out of awe comes the reverence at the heart of gratitude.
3. Make sure your children practice gratitude in daily conversation. Saying “thank you,” expressing appreciation, and affirming what others say all matter a lot in helping develop kids appreciation for what they have.
Get the full scoop on what research is showing to be the culprit behind American children’s lack of gratitude.
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- Thanks! How Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Robert Emmons
- Living Life as a Thank You: The Transformative Power of Daily Gratitude by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons
- Making Grateful Kids:The Science of Building Character by Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono
- Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, by Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough
- Gratitude and well being: the benefits of appreciation
- Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration
- Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood
- To have and to hold: gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds
- Greatergood.org gratitude page
- “The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life” by Amit Amin at happierhuman.com.