Encouraging children to express gratitude

The holidays are an opportunity to reflect on what has been given to us and to express our gratitude for it. The latest poll from CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers insight into how parents teach their children about gratitude and how those children express it.1 The 1,125 parents who participated in the study had children ages 4 to 10.

When asked whether they thought children were grateful for what they had, 81% of parents answered that they did not. Nearly half of parents worried that they were giving too much to their children and 42% said they were ashamed of their child’s selfishness in the past. Nearly all parents agreed that children can be taught to be grateful and 63% said their families have daily conversations about what they have and their gratitude for it.

Parents were also asked how they did their best to encourage expression of appreciation. When asked, 88% of parents said they regularly encouraged their child to say please and thank you, while the rest only occasionally or rarely. Chores were a common occurrence for children in 60% of families, occasionally for 34% and rarely for 6%. Other strategies parents used included having their child donate toys or clothing to charitable organizations, write thank you notes for gifts, and say prayers. Some parents even encouraged their child to donate the child’s own money to charity.

Teaching gratitude was a high priority for over 75% of parents; only 2% said it was a low priority. Parents who indicated that it was a high priority were more likely to report that their child was regularly encouraged to say please and thank you, donate items to charity, write thank you cards, do chores to help with housework, and make money donate to charities. Outside of the home, 63% of parents involve their child in some type of service activity, such as helping neighbors (50%) and clean-up days at school (35%).

Discussing the implications of the poll, the researchers noted that, unlike many other traits, gratitude is not developed automatically. It required age appropriate encouragement. The most common strategy for encouraging please and thanks has been to promote gratitude, but it is important for parents to learn the difference between politeness and gratitude, which they can do by explaining why they are asking their child for thanks to say and encourage the use of “thanks for…” instead.


1. CS Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Child Health: Efforts by Parents to Teach Children About Gratitude. 2021;39(5). Published November 22, 2021. Accessed December 1, 2021. https://mottpoll.org/reports/parent-efforts-teach-children-about-gratitude

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