Cultivating Gratitude in Children

my worldraising giving children

It is a truth almost universally declared by parents nationwide, that their children seem increasingly ungrateful. In a country where so much is not only easily available, but actually paraded right under their noses, how can our children not take so much for granted? It may be argued that it was many of us acting selfishly, even as if we were entitled to everything we wanted, that led to the recession we are now in. "Overall," say authors David and Andrea Reiser in their new book Letters From Home: A Wake-Up Call for Success & Wealth, "it seems that parents across the country have thrown up their hands in frustration and defeat."

There is a need to instill true gratitude in our hearts and the hearts of our children. This kind of gratitude goes beyond the simple thanks-for-everything response we give to grocery baggers and bank tellers alike. "Gratitude is a mindset and a lifestyle, an attitude of deep appreciation...for the kindnesses and benefits you perceive yourself as receiving," David Reiser explains. He and his wife point out that teaching gratitude to our children is not only a means of improving their lives, but also of improving ours as well. They quote a University of California Davis study that shows an increase by 25% in the happiness levels of people who practice gratitude, although it is not mentioned how those happiness levels are gauged. They state that gratitude grants perspective, even in children, although I would argue that neither child nor adult can truly have full perspective until one sees, ideally in real life, what life is like for those that don't have the same blessings. Lastly, the Reisers show how gratitude improves relationships when it is freely expressed, and how it can be a remedy for greed. Andrea Reiser, co-author and mother to their four sons, promises that "it is possible to reclaim our capacity to parent and to refocus our children's values. And at the center of the values we teach ought to be gratitude."

That's all well and good, but how does one actually go about teaching Gratitude? The Reisers offer these suggestions:

  • Don't just county your blessings, name them...daily.
  • Link gratitude to a higher power.
  • Be a grateful parent. Telling your kids you're grateful for them, as well as the many reasons why, is fundamental to their healthy development, and their self-esteem will be boosted for the right reasons.
  • Don't shower them with too much stuff. This dilutes the "gratitude impulse."
  • When your child wants something, make him pitch in. Don't be the sole provider.
  • Keep a stack of thank-you cards on hand. Insist that your kids use them often.
  • Set a good example. Say "thank you" sincerely and often.
  • Ask your kids to give back to the community and help them find ways to do so, whether by volunteering at a local charity with them, or helping them set aside a portion of their allowance to give to a cause of their choice.
  • Insist on politeness and respect all around.
  • Look for teachable moments.
  • Find the silver lining. Be a "glass-half-full" person.

The Reiser's book also provides suggestions for teaching the value of education, hard work, opportunity, vision, integrity, a positive attitude, resilience, accountability, self-discipline, patience, balance, and courage. These are all fundamental, even obvious traits, which we would all do well to improve upon. Their book offers nothing new in the way of which values to cultivate in ourselves and our children; what is helpful is the practical hints they offer for doing so and the examples they provide from their lives and the lives of their friends.

The Reiser's book is available at

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