Say Thank You: How does a child learn to be and express gratitude? | family

You whine all day while you’re at the zoo with them, you whine for another ice cream and you never say “thank you” for a gift. Being grateful and being able to express it sounds like a skill kids need to learn, but how exactly does this work?

“Young children cannot supervise what it is like to arrange a holiday, organize a day out or buy a gift. What effort, time and money is involved. For this reason, you cannot expect children to suddenly stop crying or behaving well all day long. Let alone express their gratitude Yours “Children live in the here and now,” says Sophia van Splonteren, who is a certified trainer for children and parents at the Kleine Grote Mensen.

Understand how other people operate

It is only when children reach the age of five that something happens in their psychology theory of mind is called. Giacomo Bono explains, “Theory of mind is the understanding that other people have certain mental states, such as desires, emotions, beliefs, or perceptions, that are different from your own mental states and that such mental states drive behavior.” He is an associate professor of psychology at California State University Dominguez Hills and co-author of the book Make children grateful. “To be grateful to others, this theory of mind must be developed. Thus, the expression of gratitude does not usually occur before the age of five.”


When you express your gratitude to each other at home, you turn on the light with your children

Sophia van Splunteren

An internal factor that helps express gratitude, Bono says, is strong language skills. “Young children who are good at socializing with other peers, parents, and adults are more likely to express gratitude, sometimes as early as 4 years old.”

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Practice gratitude

According to Bono, gratitude can be learned and strengthened through practice. “While human brains do not develop theory of mind until four to five years old, adults can help set up this pathway. Social interactions, even when children are only two or three years old, help foster gratitude and kindness. Whenever you talk as parents about desires, thoughts, and feelings At home, more children are practicing this and acquiring social and emotional skills.”

Adds Van Splunteren: If you’re expressing gratitude to each other at home—whether it’s because the other points out something or they cooked well—you turn on the light with your kids. As a parent, continue to set a good example and have confidence that your child will automatically pick up on this.”


Gratitude is a gateway to greater social and emotional skills. We often need other people to get things done in our lives

Giacomo Bono, assistant professor of psychology

What’s important, according to Bono, is to help kids better understand what gratitude feels like. Try to be more verbal than just “thank you.” Suppose a little brother shares something with his sister. Then don’t just tell her to say thank you, but say “How nice of him to share his cookie with you, because a chip cookie This is his favorite chocolate!” Or take, for example, getting a gift from Grandma. Then say, for example, “How amazing is that Grandma who knew you wanted this so much and bought this for you!”. If your child says “Thank you When he better understands the meaning of a brother, a grandmother, or someone else, it will help reinforce his gratitude.

The importance of gratitude

Why do we really want children to feel grateful? Bono: I see gratitude as a gateway to more social-emotional skills. We often need other people to get things done in our lives. Gratitude helps us organize ourselves so that we can better support each other through difficult times and achieve important goals. Perhaps most importantly, gratitude is a form of self-care aimed at good mental health and happiness. Gratitude can help emphasize the positive aspects of life and make you more resilient. “

According to Bono, this is definitely a topical topic in the wake of the Corona pandemic. Not only has the pandemic worsened children’s mental health, but it has also deprived many children of the social interactions they need in their development. In my recent research, I found that gratitude helped student well-being and resilience as the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020.”


It is not surprising that children are self-centered at an early age. You will often see the fruits of your efforts as a parent later on

Giacomo Bono

thankless task

Since little children live in the here and now, you might be told that after a fun evening stroll, “never was such a stupid day.” “If kids feel that way in that moment, they’ll say so,” says Van Splunteren. Does that make parenting ungrateful sometimes? absolute. Do you feel like you’re doing parenting wrong? Also this. It is not at all strange to be disappointed by such behavior of your child, but I would like to urge you to take such statements with a grain of salt. Make a joke about it (“I’ve seen you smile all day,” or “I had fun playing with your present”) and keep it light. Try to put it in perspective and not take it too seriously.”

Bono: Well, it’s the kids’ job to be their own person in the world. It is not surprising that children become self-centered at an early age as they discover who they are and how the world works. This does not mean that you got it wrong. You will often see the fruits of your efforts as a parent later on. Having said that, be kind to yourself and experiment quality time to spend together. Be curious about your child’s world. Time and attention are among the best gifts you can give your child.

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