In a survey referenced by the authors of Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character reference, two-thirds of parents expressed concern about their children’s sense of “entitlement.”
Independent research backs their intuition. In just the past 15 years, there has been a 30% increase in people’s sense of entitlement as evidenced with their agreement with statements such as, “people owe me something” or “I deserve this.”
Handbook for Creating Grateful Kids
From authors Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono, both psychology professors, Making Grateful Kids is the antidote to entitlement. The authors present their book as a handbook for raising grateful children, with concrete, research-backed parenting suggestions for each developmental age from preschool through high school.
Included are checklists for determining (or helping your child determine) your child’s strengths and interests and to identify goals to work toward. Strategies are clearly marked in simple, one sentence bold print and then further examined and explained.
Along the way, Froh and Bono share anecdotes from their own families, research results on various topics, and how gratitude can positively permeate all aspects of life. The authors define gratitude as the “appreciation people feel when somebody has done something kind or helpful for them or when they recognize the good things or people in their lives.”
They say that gratitude can be an emotion, a mood, or even a personality trait. Because we can think of it as a personality trait, gratitude can also be a life orientation, bringing other positive aspects of character and outlook with it.
As Dr. Bono pointed out in an interview with Decoded Parenting, “learning to develop emotional competency is perhaps the greatest resource we can develop for effectively solving problems in contemporary society.”
Gratitude opens the doors, he says, to “using your strengths, trusting others, taking risks, improving friendships, developing social networks, and creating transformative opportunities.”
Child Development Informs Parenting Suggestions
A lot of the suggestions the authors have, particularly in the early years, boil down to understanding child development and using that knowledge to inform good parenting.
The authors suggest that parents create attachment bonds to help children feel safe with their emotions, let children spend a lot of time playing to practice social interactions, and read to children while discussing the characters’ emotions and how they deal with situations.
These suggestions may create grateful children, as the authors predict, but they will also definitely positively affect cognitive and emotional development.
The authors even suggest that choosing the right type of preschool affects gratitude development.
They say that parents should look for a place where the staff allows children to engage in a lot of creative play and healthy social development is the emphasis.
In fact, current research points to these very things as the hallmarks of developmentally appropriate teaching and learning for early childhood.
Young Children Need Help Seeing Others’ Points of View
Genuine gratitude involves being able to understand another’s point of view – knowing why someone helped you or how helping you might entail personal sacrifice.
Young children will not be able to see a situation from another’s point of view until about age 7 or 8, when they enter Piaget’s concrete operational state of development.
However, preschoolers can – and do – watch how parents respond to situations. The authors recommend that parents consciously model grateful behavior and provide children with scripts and routines, such as saying “thank you.”
In fact, Dr. Bono says that if parents can implement just one strategy from the book, modeling gratitude “shows kids that relationships matter and that important ones deserve our full attention and that this is rewarding to have in life.” He recommends making actions and words explicit so that the language of gratitude is clear to children.
When they are ready for genuine gratitude, children will already know how to express it. Froh and Giacomo insist that it is important to help children analyze and verbalize the good feelings they have so that they will learn to recognize the things for which they should be grateful.
Although adults commonly intervene when children have negative feelings, helping them to recognize and appropriately manage anger, sadness or frustration, they rarely assist children with naming all of the positive things happening around them. How often, for example, does someone ask a child, “Why are you so happy?”
When adults help children learn to celebrate all of the positive things in their lives, children feel blessed and content with all the good that surrounds them.
Spiritual and Religious Overtones to the Book
While not an overtly religious book, it is clear that the authors view church membership as a part of creating grateful children. Some readers may be put off by the references to religion. For example, there are frequent references to volunteering at or being involved with church activities as a way for children to develop community ties.
Also, the authors’ vision of a wonderful future includes clergy having a “newfound hope for the next generation because church attendance is up and volunteering has increased” as well as people chipping in for others who need help.
Making Grateful Kids Provides a Parenting Blueprint
Taken individually, the strategies and suggestions in the book are not new. Indeed, many of the strategies – limiting media viewing, teaching delayed gratification, modeling gratitude, participating in community via services, clubs and sports teams, could be filed under generally-accepted good parenting techniques.
What is new in this book is the connection the authors make between emotional competence and the ability to face the rest of life’s challenges. The authors’ strategies and research all seem to suggest that good parenting, raising grateful children, and having children grow into kind, happy, successful adolescents are all connected.
After parents read the book through, they will want to keep it handy as a reference through their children’s adolescence. As Dr. Bono points out, “The more we choose a grateful outlook, the better we get at it and the more the habit develops. Therefore, the best approach to the book is to relate the examples and strategies to your own life and look for opportunities to apply the book’s lessons to your life regularly.“© Copyright 2015 Nicole Fravel, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting