Kids aren’t natural-born gratitude experts. Gratitude develops over time, as cognitive abilities mature, and it takes a lot of practice.
But that practice pays off. Grateful kids and teens tend to be more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, get better grades, and be more satisfied with school, family, community, friends, and themselves. They are more likely to have better social support, give more emotional support to others, and use their strengths to better their community. Overall, they are happier, more optimistic, and more satisfied with their lives.
You can try this practice whenever you notice that a child may benefit from your positive support to pause and recognize something good in their life, whether it’s an object or an experience. This brief, reflective conversation can last approximately five minutes.
As parents, caretakers, and educators, we teach and expect our kids to say “thank you” when they receive gifts. And while that’s one important part, gratitude also involves other social and emotional skills that need to be broken down and practiced.
Researchers have identified four parts that make up the gratitude experience:
Discussing these parts with your children can teach them about gratitude. Here are some examples of NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO questions that you can ask your kids about their gratitude experiences, whether they are getting an actual present from a relative, receiving kindness from their friends, or eating a tasty meal.
Hussong, A. M., Langley, H. A., Rothenberg, W. A., Coffman, J. L., Halberstadt, A. G., Costanzo, P. R., & Mokrova, I. (2018). Raising grateful children one day at a time. Applied Developmental Science, DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2018.1441713.
This daily diary study found that the more parents took action to cultivate gratitude in their kids on a certain day (such as by talking with their kids about experiences of receiving something from others), the more their kids showed gratitude on that same day—compared to days when the parents took less action and compared to other kids whose parents took less action.
Parent–child conversations may deepen children’s understanding of gratitude by breaking it down into parts and raising their awareness about those parts.
When kids can notice that someone gave them a gift intentionally and freely, they are more likely to have a stronger experience of gratitude. These questions also help kids to connect the gifts that they receive in their lives to the positive feelings they feel afterward. Prompting children to perform acts of gratitude—whether they be gestures of appreciation or paying it forward—may help them understand the different ways to express what the experience meant to them.
These discussions provide an opportunity for kids to internalize their parents’ attitudes about gratitude and its value. Ultimately, they may end up feeling grateful more often.
Andrea Hussong, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill