How to Teach Your Child Gratitude

gratitude Jun 29, 2022

What do you say? 

Come on now, don’t be shy, say thank you! 

Here, let me do it first….

See, I said thank you. 

Now can you say thank you?


Later, in the car ride back home, your kid says “she said thank you but she didn’t mean it”. That’s a real quote from a 6 year old! Children know what sincerity and authenticity sound like. 

Modelling the words  “thank you” is not enough as we end up teaching our child to conform to societal politeness norms over true feelings of gratitude or gratefulness. Instead, here’s an alternate framework for you to consider. The Raising Grateful Children Project at UNC suggests a 4 step process called NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO: 

  1. What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
  2. How we THINK about why we have been given those things 
  3. How we FEEL about the things we have been given 
  4. What we DO to express appreciation in turn

This project sheds light on the realization that gratitude is as much about receiving as it is about giving to others. The process of receiving is the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL component while the process of giving is the DO component. 

Parents, if you focus on the NOTICE and the DO components mostly, you are not alone. However, just focussing on the bookends of the framework is akin to reading the first and last few chapters of a book: you’ll get the gist but you’ll lack the depth of the story. 

 

How to get more intentional with receiving a gift

 

Noticing a gift is a simple task and one that most kids master. The THINK and FEEL parts are a bit more complex, so let’s dive into that a bit further.

 

THINK 

 

Use your logical brain to think about the gift from multiple dimensions. What do you think about the gift? What do you think about the person who gave you the gift? Cue the 4Ws and 1H - what, when, where, who and how - to help guide you to reframe the event better for your child. 

Here are some examples of questions you can use to explore “THINK”: 

  • What do you think about this?
  • Where did the intention come from? 
  • Who played a role in this?
  • How did they make it happen?
  • Why do they care?  

 

FEEL

 

Use your heart to connect to your inner self to feel with an even broader spectrum of emotions. What does it feel like in your heart to receive this gift? Why do you feel that way? The vast spectrum of feeling can be called on from various types of questions. 

Here are a few examples that you can use to explore “FEEL”

  • What do you feel about this? 
  • Does it make you feel happy? Why? 
  • What else do you feel inside? 
  • Do you feel like the other person knows what you feel? 

Why does this work? Research shows that children have stronger feelings of gratitude towards people over things. The THINK & FEEL model provides a framework for connecting inanimate objects (like gifts) to people’s intentions, love and affection. Much more powerful stuff than the gift itself. 

 

How to teach THINK & FEEL in a way that sticks

 

Teach your kid this framework and make it stick by helping them visualize the Gratitude Dance…. when something nice happens, encourage them to process it with their head first (cue all the THINK questions). Then guide them to process the event with their heart (cue all the FEEL questions). The final dance step is for them to process their words or actions through their body - maybe this is a verbal thank you in the moment, a hug, a high five, a letter written later on - whatever way in which the gratitude comes out, it will be authentic and genuine. 

Note that sometimes this act of thanks may not happen right away. In a world of instant reciprocity, a parent may find this stressful to navigate.  A gentle reminder that authentic words or acts of appreciation may sometimes take a bit of time. The pressure to figure it all out quickly doesn’t allow for the skill to build in a sustainable way. So be kind in your approach and trust the process. 

Another note in gift giving is that while the return “thank you” is polite and transactional in nature, it isn’t going anywhere. The more we practice the 4 step model, the quicker we can be in receiving and giving gratitude back in a way that is representative of what our true nature calls for. After gift exchanges, make sure you circle back with your child on a gift that they have received and work on these steps with them. A polite “thank you” in the moment is not a substitute for the harder, and more rewarding work of the deeper gratitude journey. 

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