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Beyond the Wishlist: Raising a Thankful Child

December 16, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - The holiday season is a time when many Hoosiers give thanks for the important things in life. For children, however, experts say gratefulness is not a quality that comes naturally and needs to be taught.

Christine Turo-Shields, a licensed clinical social worker at Indiana University Health and in private practice, says for kids who are focused on their own toy and gift wish lists, parents need to take the lead in teaching gratitude.

"Cultivating that sense of, that character trait of gratitude, you know, is usually coming online between ages 7 and 8, or 8 and 9."

Before that age, she explains, most kids are very narcissistic – they're not yet emotionally wired to feel empathy. She suggests that parents can best teach thankfulness through their own behavior, by using good manners and polite language and by asking other adults in their child's life to do the same.

Additionally, says Turo-Shields, a child should receive praise when he or she shows thankfulness. And being a good role model is as easy as saying, 'please' and 'thank you.'

"Outwardly expressing gratitude, you know, when they do something helpful: 'I really appreciate that you brought the diaper bag over to me.' 'I appreciate the way you play so nicely with your younger brother, or sister.'"

Turo-Shields says research over the last 20 years shows the current generation of teens and young adults now could use some more lessons in such social skills as gratitude.

"They are more self-assured, self-confident – but they are also more self-absorbed and narcissistic. They don't know deprivation, if you will. They don't know how to delay gratification."

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN