How to Raise Thankful Kids

Posted on December 10, 2013

My husband and I are incredibly lucky to be able to give our son what he needs and often what he wants, and we are raising him in a wonderful town in which many families do the same. Yet he’s growing up in a bubble, and that terrifies me. If he never truly struggles for things—important things—and he doesn’t spend much time with people who do, will he ever realize he’s got it so good? And will he ever want to do anything to make the world better? I know—rich/white/entitled people problems. This is the upper-middle-class parent’s existential enigma: How can we lovingly provide for our kids without turning them into spoiled brats? How can I teach my child to be thankful?

It isn’t a frivolous question. Research suggests that kids who are overindulged by their caregivers are more likely than other kids to grow into adults who are obsessed with fame, wealth, and attractiveness, who are less skilled, and who aren’t very conscientious or thoughtful. “They could basically give two hoots about contributing to the community, working for a better society, or helping others without anything in return,” explains David Bredehoft, a professor of psychology emeritus at Concordia University in Minnesota, who has spent more than a decade studying overindulgence and is the co-author of the upcoming How Much Is Too Much? with researchers Connie Dawson and Jean Illsley Clarke.

Ungrateful kids are unhappier and less academically successful than their more thankful peers, and, unsurprisingly, they have fewer friends, too. (Bredehoft is careful to point out that his research is correlational, so we can’t say for sure that overindulgence or ungratefulness cause these attributes. They may be linked to them for other reasons.)

Sometimes, bratty behavior is simply a sign of normal development. That’s particularly true of toddlers and young preschoolers, who can’t regulate their emotions as well as older kids do. “When they get their mind fixed on getting a particular toy, or indulging in a treat just before dinner, their lack of cognitive flexibility can make it hard for them to think they can ever possibly be happy if they don’t get it,”

By the time kids are 4½ or so, though, they should have a pretty well developed capacity for self-regulation. You should be hearing less I need it NOW! and more Thank you, Mom. Kids should also be able to, though not always be happy to, take no for an answer. In general, if you see your kid constantly yearning for more, that’s a sign of a gratitude problem—she’s clearly not very appreciative of what she already has.

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Category(s):Child Development, Parenting

Source material from Slate