Parenting paradox: Trading expectation for appreciation: Raising grateful children 

Published 9:38 am Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Grateful or entitled: We begin modeling and teaching our children to say please and thank you before they can even speak. We encourage them to appreciate what they have and remind them how fortunate they are. Very few people set out to raise entitled kids. But without intentional efforts on our part, we might do just that. 

Instant gratification: Perhaps instant gratification is the default for today’s generation, but considering the current climate, we shouldn’t be surprised. Everything from getting the answer they need in a millisecond from Google to having Amazon deliver exactly what they want in a mere two days, our children are growing up in a world where patience doesn’t seem to be essential. To further complicate the issue, our children are bombarded with pop-up ads that occur at a rate we’ve never experienced before. Their days are filled with getting what they want when they want it, and then seeing more things they want each time they look at a screen. So how do we raise grateful children when so many factors are actively working against us? How do we raise children who feel appreciation rather than expectation, who are mindful of things to be thankful for? Why does it really matter? 

Challenge: Many children lack awareness of what they should be grateful for because they are immersed in privilege. It’s hard for them to understand that the toy they are playing with is a result of a parent’s hard work, or the great meal they are having was made despite the parent being totally exhausted from work. Going to games, staying all night with friends, and getting last-minute, must-have items – – just part of the routine. American writer David Foster Wallace illustrates this point best: 

Email newsletter signup

Two young fish swimming along meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What’swater?” 

What the research says:  Several studies have shown a correlation between gratitude and living a happier, healthier life. Being grateful can improve our relationships, increase feelings of self-worth, and reduce stress and anxiety. The list of benefits goes on and on. 

Fostering gratitude in our children:  

• Be a role model for gratitude. When you come home from work, focus on what went well in your day. Say nice things about your coworkers, your family members, and people you encounter. Resist talking about the server who messed up your order, or the package that didn’t come on time. Our children watch us to know how they should behave and respond in any given situation. Make sure what your actions reflect what you want them to value . 

• Ask each family member to share at a family meal or at bedtime what they are thankful for. Do this every day to create a habit of appreciation. Once this has become something your family does every day, your children will be thinking ahead about what they will share, which means they will focus on the positives in their day even more. 

• Help your child be mindful of what they should be thankful for by having them keep a running gratitude list. Often times children don’t show appreciation because they don’t realize what they need to be appreciating. Proactive reflection helps then be mindful. Consider even hanging a whiteboard in your kitchen where all family members can write what they are grateful for.

• Periodically encourage your child to send gratitude notes to people who impact their lives. Coaches, teachers, cafeteria workers, mentors, family members, the list is ongoing. Acknowledging how fortunate they are to have a loving support system can minimize them taking others for granted. 

Laura Bonzo-Sims, Ed.D. hasbeen an educatorfor25 years, serving asa collegeadvisor, middleand high school English teacher, and graduateschool professor. 

KatherineL. Stone, Ph.D. isa licensed psychologist who haspracticed in Lexington foralmost 20 years, focusing on issuesmental health issuesthat af ect today’syouth and young adults.