Stop telling your kids to be grateful. Show them how instead

Grateful parents tend to raise grateful kids, according to a 2017 study in Applied Developmental Science. When a child demonstrates thoughtfulness, make a big deal out of it, Karns said.

“Say things like, ‘That hug makes me feel so good inside,’ or ‘Wow! You made that drawing for me? You really put a lot of thought into what I would like,’” she said. “Letting them be the recipients of your gratitude can help them cultivate their own.” 

It’s also an important way to helps kids develop social and moral awareness, said Richard Weissbourd, EdD, a child and family psychologist and director of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project. The national effort aims to make moral and social development priorities in child-raising.

“When parents value other people and their contributions in a regular way, it is an important signal to kids that other people are important and their contributions are important, and when parents find gratification in expressing gratitude, it makes it more likely kids will have their own positive experiences around gratitude,” Weissbourd said.

The benefits of parents taking time to express their gratitude to others also goes beyond just helping their kids cultivate gratitude, according to a 2023 study in Emotion. Researchers found practicing gratefulness improves parents’ own well-being and leads to better family functioning.

“This is useful because parents may be maxed out on doing things for their children,” said study author John Coffey, PhD, a psychology professor at Arizona State University. “In our society, often parents prioritize their children over themselves or get advice to do something children-specific to keep the children happy and healthy, but our study shows it is also beneficial for families when parents prioritize their well-being. We call it a head fake—like a no-look pass where you look one way but throw another—such that parents are taking care of themselves but it’s also benefiting the family.”