Parents who show gratitude, are more extroverted, or are religiously involved are all more likely to have children who experience gratitude – who are happier and more appreciative of things others do for them and give them.
William Rothenberg and colleagues investigated how the link between parents’ gratitude and children’s gratitude works. They studied 100 parent-child pairs. Parents and children visited the laboratory once, and the parents kept a seven-day on-line diary reporting on the child’s gratitude. The diary asked parents to report on their child’s emotions more than formal politeness – for example, “my child recognised the effort or thoughtfulness behind a gift or object they received from others” or “my child expressed positive feelings when they received something special”.
The researchers found that parents who showed more gratitude were more likely to set goals that gave their children opportunities to develop a sense of gratitude for other people and to be thankful. Examples of such parental goals included “teaching your child how it feels to be grateful” and “teaching your child how to express gratitude”. These parents were also more likely to place their children in activities that encouraged a sense of gratitude – family dinners and social events, choosing a school that emphasises gratitude, setting up play dates, participating in groups that engage in community activities.
Other research has shown that specific activities with children can increase their feelings and expressions of gratitude – for example, reading and writing a thank-you letter, listing five things to be grateful for each day, or learning about the costs and benefits of giving.
Giving children opportunities to be grateful doesn’t explain all of the link between gratitude in parents and gratitude in children. Other factors may be at work. The researchers suggest that genetic influences may be at play, or that grateful parents may also use other activities to teach their children gratitude besides the ones examined in this research.
Developing gratitude in childhood is known to bring advantages in later life – greater life satisfaction and better health, physical and mental. Nurturing a sense of gratitude in children should be a priority for all involved in the care and raising of children.
Rothenberg WA, Hussong AM, Langley HA, Egerton GA, Halberstadt AG, Coffman JL, Mokrova I & Costanzo PR (2017), Grateful parents raising grateful children: Niche selection and the socialization of child gratitude, Applied Developmental Science 21(2), 106-120