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Early Child Development

How to Raise a Grateful Kid

In the season of giving, here's how to help your kiddo appreciate what he has

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There's no prouder moment than when you catch your kiddo answering a question politely or expressing sincere thanks. But the flip side can make you cringe-when you overhear, say, a flat "I have this toy already." No matter what this season's gifts look like, here are six ways to teach your kid not only to accept them with grace, but to mean it.

Practice the words Model the behavior you want to see and hear by demonstrating it yourself. Whether you receive an actual present or the gift of help, discuss the gift with the appropriate language, explains Jana Martin, PhD, a child psychologist in private practice in Long Beach, CA. Talk about how the gift makes you feel or how you'll use it.

Write it down Sending thank-you notes is indeed a lost art, but it's one easily revived at your house. Let toddlers and preschoolers draw pictures to say thanks or you can take dictation for them, says Martin. Older kids can pen short notes or a postcard, but try to get your child to be specific. Have him explain what he likes about the gift exactly (for example, it's blue-which is a favorite color).

Point out examples Do you see someone carrying groceries to the car for another person? Or a neighbor picking up trash on your block? Highlight these actions for your child and emphasize how important it is for the whole community when we help others. Do the same when you and your child listen in on kind words of thanks. "You might say, 'That girl in line at the store said thank-you-and I bet her mom was smiling when she heard it,'" says Martin. 

Think of others Adrienne Jones, the mom of two daughters on Long Island, NY, has her girls go through their toys regularly to donate those they don't play with or have outgrown. "This way, they'll enjoy anything new that comes along," she explains.

Discuss the terms Talk with your child about the differences in the words 'needs, must-haves, and wants,' suggests Molly Wimbiscus, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic Children's. "Needs are essential to survival (fresh water, clean air, shelter, food, love), while must-haves help us function in life, such as school, computer access, clothes and shoes," she explains. But wants are the things we long for and perhaps must earn with time. We save up money for our wants, but needs and must haves, are the real priority.

Volunteer as a family You can talk up gratitude until you're blue in the face, but actions speak louder than words. And doing it as a family makes more of an impact. Raking leaves for a neighbor, feeding a stray cat, or donating a portion of allowance to a local charity helps your child see that he can affect others. "This way, he'll be more likely to understand the value of what's already been given to him," adds Martin.