Teaching children how to be grateful is a gift that will benefit them throughout their lifetime.

Gratitude, a sense of appreciation, joy, or thankfulness, leads to better emotional and physical health in adults and in children. While the bulk of research concerning gratitude has been conducted with adults, newer research has explored its impact on children.

Studies involving children as young as 10 years of age have shown that children also reap positive effects from being thankful. In one such study, adolescents who were grateful showed greater optimism, greater satisfaction with their family, friends, community, school and self, and an overall positive outlook on their life, including positive thoughts concerning their friends’ and families’ support. Research with older adolescents revealed that gratitude is positively associated with life satisfaction, social integration, and academic achievement, and negatively related to envy, depression, and materialism. Other studies have shown that children who express or acknowledge gratitude sleep better and have stronger bonds and relationships with others; these advantages also correlate with children’s development of competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring/compassion.

On the other hand, research shows that youth who are ungrateful are less satisfied with their lives and are more apt to be aggressive and engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as early or frequent sexual activities, substance use, poor eating habits, physical inactivity, and poor academic performance.

Additionally, studies involving adults consistently show that grateful people are less likely to respond with anger after being hurt by others, have better coping mechanisms, and are more willing to help others than those who are not grateful. Interestingly, studies have shown that some of the positive benefits of gratitude last between 3 and 6 months.

Research has proven that individuals of all ages can learn how to become more grateful. Here are a few simple tasks that can help you and your child practice gratitude:
• write a letter of appreciation for someone.
• make a list of up to five things for which you are grateful (i.e., give thanks at meal time or bed time). Individuals who did this reported having more gratitude, optimism, and life satisfaction, as well as less negative emotions, compared to individuals who focused on things they found annoying.
• keep a journal of daily positive events or blessings. Those who kept a gratitude journal had a more positive outlook than those who did not keep a journal.
• think gratefully by acknowledging all of the positive things in your life. Individuals who focused on the positive occurrences in their lives reported more grateful thinking, gratitude, and happiness.

Because research demonstrates that gratitude is a positive state of mind that can be learned or enhanced, we should regularly focus on the positive occurrences in our lives and teach our children how to do the same. Research has provided us with this gift of knowledge about the importance of gratitude. Therefore, we should count our blessings for this research and pass this knowledge on to our children so they can become physically and emotionally healthier.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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7 thoughts on “Teaching children how to be grateful is a gift that will benefit them throughout their lifetime.

  1. Thank you for this constructive post. Considering that children, almost always, learn what they live the best way for us to teach this value is for us to display gratitude in our daily interactions with others.

    Gratitude directs thoughts down a more positive channel. If we are constantly looking for things to appreciate and be grateful for then we are looking for the best in life..it makes sense that positive emotions should follow that focus.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with the post and the comment directly above this one.

    How can we teach children to move towards what they want if we they are not grateful for what they already have? No one is so far down in the depths of despair that they can’t find one thing for which to be grateful. Even if that one thing is just the mental acuity to recognize your despair.

    Gratitude breeds positivity.

  3. Nice post. I agree that it is important that children even at a very early age, will be brought up knowing how to be thankful. They will appreciate more what life has to offer and they will feel blessed even more.

  4. It is a true challenge to foster the capacity for gratitude in an environment in which many things operate on the principle of the child pressing a button and being instanty rewarded with something entertaining or pleasant to them. The is no effort involved, no cost that they recognize, and being raised in such an environment, it’s understandable if they foster an attitude that they should have what they want instantaneously and shouldn’t feel any gratitude for receiving it.

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