How Can I Teach My Child To Be Grateful?

Dad gives present to grateful daughter

Reading time: 5 minutes

Suitable for: Families with children of all ages

As parents, we all marvel at our children’s milestones. We record their first shaky steps, we gasp at their first little smile, and we delight in their first words. And two of the first words we encourage our children to say are, ‘thank you’ or sometimes ‘ta’, to begin with.

The importance of ‘thank you’

When we hand them a toy, when we give them a snack, when we help them get dressed, we model and expect a ‘thank you’ in return. This simple phrase reassures us that our child has acknowledged something we’ve done for them and is a fantastic first step on the road to gratitude.

The opposite is also true, of course: we get frustrated when our child fails to utter those magic words. It feels rude and ungrateful, and it’s even worse when this happens around other people. It can be so embarrassing that we end up forcing our child to say ‘thank you’ through gritted teeth!

Being grateful is more than words

These two simple words are a way of outwardly expressing gratitude for something. We follow this convention as adults, too. When somebody cooks a meal for us, we say ‘thank you’. When someone holds a door open for us, we say ‘thank you’. It’s our way of showing that we‘re grateful.

However, gratitude – the deep-rooted feeling of thankfulness – goes much deeper than words. The Greater Good Science Centre, a world-leading institute for research into social and emotional well-being, defines gratitude as, ‘the social glue that is key to building and nurturing strong relationships.’

4-part model of gratitude

Whilst saying ‘thank you’ is, of course, a good demonstration of a child’s manners, truly understanding what it means to be grateful involves children’s ability to take another person’s perspective, show empathy and apply emotional knowledge.


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