As American families sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving, a majority of parents say they want to raise grateful kids but they don't think they're succeeding.
Four out of five respondents to a new nationwide poll said children aren't as thankful as they should be, and half worry that they overindulge their own kids. Two in five also said they're sometimes embarrassed by how selfish their child acts.
"Many parents may look back to their own childhood and, in comparison, wonder if they are giving their child too much in the way of material things. Parents may have watched their child behave selfishly, such as refusing to share with other children or saying they don't like a particular gift," said Sarah Clark, co-director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at University of Michigan Health.
"We know that gratitude is associated with more positive emotions, having strong relationships, enjoying more experiences and even health benefits," Clark added. "However, gratitude is not something that children usually acquire automatically; it needs to be nurtured, in an age-appropriate way."
The responses were gathered from a nationally representative sample of parents of 4- to 10-year-olds. The parents used different strategies to encourage their kids to be thankful at the holidays and always, the findings showed.
"Parents who place a high priority on teaching their child gratitude are more likely to report their children exhibit behaviors associated with thankfulness and a willingness to give to others," Clark said in a university news release.
Though Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to give thanks, she added, parents can teach and model kindness and gratitude all year round.
"Over time and through experiences, children will learn to be grateful for others and appreciate what they have," Clark said.
Most respondents said it's possible to teach kids to be thankful. The poll detailed five strategies: teaching manners; giving; volunteering; contributing to family chores; and talking about gratitude.
Reminding kids to mind their manners was among the most commonly cited methods. About 88% of parents regularly have their child say "please" and "thank you," while 11% do so occasionally.
However, "There's a difference between politeness and gratitude," Clark said. "To help children learn to be grateful, parents also need to emphasize why they're asking their child to say thanks."
This can be as simple as taking the time to say "thank you for…" with a brief explanation that describes why they're thankful, Clark noted.
Taking time to reflect on what family members are grateful for at the dinner table or at other times during the day is another way families promote gratitude, according to the report. Nearly two-thirds of parents said their family has daily conversations about what they're grateful for, with about 36% including that in prayers.
About three in five parents polled said that they regularly have their kids help with chores, while about one-third do so occasionally. Nearly two-thirds have their kids involved in volunteering or a service activity. Half said this has included informal help for neighbors or family members.
Giving was cited as a less-common strategy to teach gratitude, including having a child donate toys or clothes to charity. About 37% do so regularly, 46% occasionally and 17% rarely. Thirteen percent of parents said their child regularly donates their own money to charity.
Clark suggested parents consider involving children the next time they fill a donation box, and talk about how items they once used can now benefit someone else.
"Parents should empower them to make these decisions themselves and gently help them see how their generosity could bring happiness to another child," she said.
The poll was taken in June and findings are based on responses from 1,125 U.S. parents. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 to 3 percentage points.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on shaping and managing your child's behavior.
SOURCE: University of Michigan Health, news release, Nov. 22, 2021