How to Drastically Reduce Your Kid’s Temper Tantrums

Knowing what can trigger a full on tantrum can be the key to preventing them altogether. We can outsmart the tantrums, and help our children grow and learn.

My daughter’s worst tantrum happened a few years as we were finishing up a daycare tour. I didn’t warn her before it was time to go and she refused to leave. I took her, screaming and kicking, outside the building to a less crowded but safe area, and put her down.

My baby girl kept kicking and screaming as I stood there as calmly as possible, for about 15 minutes, as I watched her tantrum. She didn’t want me to come to her, so I waited. People walked by, they stared. I felt anxious and sweaty, but I tried to remind myself that this isn’t as terrible as it feels.

I smiled to passers-by, and even got some empathy and encouragement from strangers who have kids. After my little one was all cried out, she ran to me and I held her. She was calm and it was all done. We learned together that day and she never had a tantrum like that again.

The truth is, most children can’t regulate their own emotions until later in life. Sure, we “know” that, but do we really? As parents and caretakers, we have so much to offer our little ones, even in moments that we feel utterly powerless. Here we will examine triggers, and how you can help your little one overcome the temptation of a tantrum.

What to know first

Emotions

Being in touch with a child’s emotion is important when trying to divert a crisis tantrum. Through understanding their emotions, we can take a step further and understand their point of view. What is it they feel? Sadness, anger, humiliation? Avoid asking if they are tired, because this is a body feeling, not an emotion. Being tired can play a huge impact on the emotions, yes, but the little ones aren’t thinking about that right now.

Triggers

Understanding your child’s triggers is key to understanding tantrums. What triggers your child to throw a fit? Overstimulation, change in routine, bedtime, crowds, sharing toys… broccoli? Once we know what tends to set off our little ones, we can be better prepared.

How to take action against tantrums 

Warning

Children understand, and do better, if things are explained to them before they enter an over-stimulating experience. If you’re going into something that might be hard, like going to a store that has toys, tell them beforehand, clearly, that you aren’t buying toys today. If you’re at the park and it’s time to go home, let them know in advance, and set a timer on your phone, showing them what will happen. If you know that your kid hates to share toys, ask them to hide one favorite toy they don’t want to share and agree the share the rest in advance. Like us, children appreciate some warning.

Eye contact

Nothing works better than getting down on your knees and having eye-to-eye contact with your child. Make sure when you talk to your child you ask them to look at you in the eye, but not in a threatening way. Rather, a safe place for them to gaze. They may try to squirm and avoid it, but calmly work on directing their eyes to you when you speak to them. You can even go a step further and ask them to repeat what you told them. This allows for more effective communication.

Modeling

Our children struggle with self-soothing and regulating their emotions. Knowing this is important. Children watch us, they sense us. As adults, we do have the power of self control. We have the power to be soothing and smiling. Keeping your cool during a tantrum may feel impossible, but it’s not. Remember that you don’t have to “feel” your child’s feelings, that you are a separate person from them. That you are not “bad” or “wrong” as a parent. Forget what other’s might think. This is natural – all kids get upset sometimes.

I recall a time when a small child came to play. Younger than my daughter, he grabbed her precious toys and grabbed at my daughter. I decided to get down on the floor and model for my daughter how to handle the situation. I played with him, yet set boundaries of not pulling on hair. My daughter watched me and began to take over, playing with the boy herself. I modeled keeping cool for her, and handling something new.

Reflecting

Reflecting can be a pretty powerful tool from the parental tool bag. When your child is starting to show warning signs of tantrum, get down to their level and tell them how you think they are feeling, ask them if you are right.

Small children can learn to identify their own emotions this way, which is great for later on. “Alexa, you’re feeling sad/angry/lonely?” Again, avoid, “Are you tired?” because this is a body feeling, not an emotion. As a toddler, if my daughter was sad she learned quickly to tell me so. I can tell you that nothing pull on the heartstrings like a toddler saying, “I’m sad,” as she cries calmly. This helps the child learn to communicate with you, and reduce meltdowns.

Redirecting and play

Redirecting a child’s attention is a great method. This isn’t just sticking a teddy bear in their hands and expecting them to change their thought track. It’s a little more clever and calls for a bit of creativity.

Imagine your child is getting cranky as you wait for your order at Starbucks (for example). What can you do? You can’t just walk out of the store without your lifeline cup of caffeine. Instead, take your child and walk around the shop. Point out interesting things like pictures on mugs or colors you see. If they’re old enough, ask what they see.

Use your environment and make something out of it. You’d be surprised how much children love straws or sugar packets. Have your child say hello to strangers who may be happy to smile and coo at your little one. 

Offer choices

Offering choices is a very effective technique when working with children. This can be used in all sorts of ways, from the food they eat to what they do. Offering choices gives your child power, and what more do they want than that? Even asking questions that seem like you’re giving them power can work wonders.

For example: “Jimmy, do you want five more minutes at the park, or six?” Once they make a choice, follow through with it. Allow your child to feel that they have some decision-making power in their daily lives. Another example: “Johnny, you have a choice, if you throw sand we go home now, if you don’t we can stay longer.”

This can be a learning process, as you follow through with your statements. “Jimmy, remember, you wanted seven minutes. Now the timer is up, time to go. Next time we can come back, but only if you can stay calm when it’s time to go.”

Again, it’s giving him a choice: If he isn’t calm maybe he won’t get to come back to the park tomorrow, but if he works to be calm then he gets to come back. When offering choices, remember that your tone is important – children sense that asking in anger may be a form of punishment.

Apply these techniques to a hypothetical-but-real-life scenario

Mom needs to bring her daughter, Ana, to the grocery store. Mom knows Ana tends to want to grab things off the shelf and throws a tantrum when she can’t keep them. Mom tells Ana before leaving the house that she needs to go to the grocery store. Mom kneels down to make eye contact and says, “Ana, we cannot buy a toy today. You have a choice, you can come with mommy to the store now but no toys, or stay home.”

Ana wants to go, but she wants a toy. She won’t agree. Mom says, “Okay, no store,” and mom waits. Ana is upset, but Mom waits until Ana understands that she won’t get a toy. Mom has Ana repeat that she understands she won’t get a toy again later.

At the store, Ana sees a toy. Forgetting everything, she begins to ask for it. Mom makes eye contact with Ana softly. “Ana, remember what we said? No toys today. I know it makes you sad, you want it now. But maybe another time you can get it.” Ana may tear up, but mom keeps her loving cool. “I know, it’s not easy, but I know you can do it, your my big girl! Can you help me remember what we needed? Was it cereal? Mommy forgot!” Laughing, mom keeps talking and encouraging Ana to help her.

In this vignette, we see that mom knows her daughter’s triggers. She decides to warn her child that there would be no toy, offering a choice to stay home or come with. She has eye contact and is physically level with her child. She sees her daughter beginning to show emotions and reflects that back to her, identifying the emotion. The child has a chance to understand and put a word to the feeling she has. Mom keeps her cool, and models behavior, reminding the child of their agreement. Later, she cleverly redirects the child in a way that helps her feel empowered. Mom is playful and loving. Tantrum avoided.

Through these techniques we learn so much about our little ones. We learn how we can act rather than react. We can outsmart the tantrums, and help our children grow and learn. I believe that most tantrums can be avoided with extra understanding and support. Try it. What have you got to lose? I know, just your sanity.  

8 Things to Say to Kids About Their Artwork Instead of “Good Job!”

“Mom, do you like my picture?” is a loaded question. Encourage your budding artist with these thoughtful answers and discussions.

“Mom, do you like my picture?”

That’s a loaded question when the artwork belongs to a 5-year-old.

Do I like it? How do I know? I don’t even know what it is. I strain to find any recognizable shapes to clue me into the subject matter. All the while, my child’s eager eyes are boring into me, looking for positive reinforcement.   

I see lots of loops and swirls, and a floating head. There are glasses, but only one eye.  There’s a scribble in the lower left corner. Is it me? Is it her? Is it an alien? 

Parents are put on the spot like this all the time, struggling to formulate a correct response to a child’s eager inquiry. How many of us have responded in the wrong way, saying things like, “That looks like a really fast car!” when the artist meant to draw a puppy. Or mistakenly thinking a red circle was a balloon, when it’s actually Grandpa. Or just throwing out the catch-all, mostly meaningless phrase, “Good job!”

There is a better way. We can respond to our kids in a way that celebrates effort, and encourages learning. Practice these responses, so that when you are caught unaware by your child, grandchild, or student, you have some go-to phrases to appropriately critique your budding artist’s work.

1 | Don’t assume that you know the subject.  

Ask the child, “Can you tell me about your painting?” 

I’ve been caught many times mistaking a truck for a rollerskating dog, a goblin for a tree, and a donut for a portal into the future.  

Children love to talk about their work, and this is the perfect time to take advantage of this tendency.

2 | Notice the details. 

Talk about the shading, lines, colors, and forms that you see in the work.  

Responses like, “I see that you added purple to the sky. Tell me more about that. Or, “You put blue dots underwater. Tell me about those.”

Invite children to discuss the thinking process behind the artwork.

3 | Give feedback about effort. 

When you see your child concentrating and adding details to a sketch or scribbling, praise what you notice.

Comments like, “I see you’re putting a lot of thought into those wavy lines.” Or, “You kept working until it was completely finished.”

Acknowledge the effort that the child is putting into a piece.

4 | Use phrases like, “I noticed…” or, “I see that you….”

Say something that begins a conversation about the artwork.

“I noticed you used lots of blue. Is that your favorite color?” Or, “I see that you added yellow on top of the purple. Why did you decide to do that on this triangle?”

5 | Don’t judge the work.

While a child may ask “Do you like it?” respond with a specific detail that appeals to you. 

“Those purple clouds remind me of a sunset that I saw last night. Or, “Your truck looks like it could go really fast!”

These are the kind of comments that will encourage further discussion.

6 | Celebrate and display work.  

Have your child find a place to display the piece. It could be in a frame, magnetic clips on the refrigerator, or scanned into the computer and shared with family.

Celebrations encourage further work, and lead to a sense of success.

7 | Encourage next steps.

I’ve seen my share of naked stick figures, and always encourage my students to put some clothes on those people.

The children always think it’s funny, but the comment is meant to encourage them to add more detail to their work. Stretch their thinking and see where they can go next.

8 | When you’re not sure what to say, give nonverbal feedback.

A smile, a pat on the back, a wink or high-five can communicate to your child that you see and acknowledge them and their work. And that’s all they’re really asking for.

Have fun with your budding artist!

You Don’t Have to Apologize for Thinking My Son is a Girl

“Your daughter is gorgeous,” said the woman, “Thank you!” I replied. “He gets a little cranky if we’re not home in time for a good nap!”

Last weekend, my husband and I were eating brunch with our toddler when an older woman who’d been waving and making our little one laugh throughout the meal came over to tell us what a beautiful child we had.

“Your daughter is gorgeous,” said the woman.

“Thank you!” I replied.

Just then my little one let out a big yawn.

“Looks like it’s almost nap-time,” I quipped. “He gets a little cranky if we’re not home in time for a good nap!”

The woman immediately looked taken aback, “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry, he just looks so much like a little girl!” she tried to explain.

We’ve all had those foot-in-mouth moments when we realize that we’ve said something very, very wrong, and it was clear this woman thought she was having one. She apologized again and hurried off before I could let her know just how little I cared that she’d mistook my son for a girl.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was sure I was carrying a girl and was giddy with excitement for all the promise a daughter held. I began a list of my favorite female-led kids’ books, I bookmarked little girls’ hairstyles, and I looked forward to being a class mom, girl scout troop leader, and friend.

When I learned that the baby swimming around inside of me was a boy I was shocked both by the sex of my baby and by how little I suddenly cared whether or not I would have a daughter. On the day my little one came into the world, the wisdom that numerous seasoned parents had passed along early in my pregnancy – that I’d love my baby with all my heart no matter their gender – was confirmed.

I also quickly realized that most of the things I’d looked forward to about being the mother of a daughter were really just things about being a parent.

I’m a committed feminist and believe deeply in equality. I work hard to minimize how my son’s sex impacts how I’m parenting him. I’m intentional with my language, I provide a breadth of toys, and his books have both male and female leads. Despite my best efforts at mindfulness, I’m sure that there are many, many subtle and culturally engrained ways I’m raising a boy differently than I would raise a girl.

I’m also more than certain that the way society at large interprets and interacts with my son is shaped by his boyhood. In the thousands of tiny ways that add up to the gendered patterns and undercurrents of our society, being a boy is shaping his life.

It’s no wonder then, with the weight that gender carries in our society, that people go to great lengths to apologize when they’ve mislabeled my son.

That day, my little guy was dressed in gray overalls and a baby-blue shirt, his amber necklace was tucked neatly below his collar. He was carrying both a doll and a model train car, and his blond hair, curly and soft, had just grown long enough to rest on his shoulders. He’s a beautiful child but, at this point, absent any secondary sex characters, my son’s only gendered identifiers are the things he’s wearing or holding.

People judge my boy’s sex based on the clothes he’s wearing or the toys he’s carrying or the way we style his hair. I have no intention of picking more “boyish” clothes or cutting his hair short just so everyone knows he’s a boy.

“Aren’t you worried that he’ll be confused or embarrassed when he realizes people think he’s a girl?” asked an acquaintance after another mislabeling incident.

Nope. I’ll simply explain to my boy that we live in a society that likes labels and categories. I’ll explain that even though a lot of people believe these categories are really important, they’re actually kind of just made-up. I’ll let him know that it’s not his job to make other people feel comfortable and that it’s okay to like one thing today and something different tomorrow.

Though he loves them now, I’ll never force my son to wear headbands or play with dolls. If he stops because other people are being negative, I’ll work hard to help him develop the kind of fuck-it confidence that everyone needs every now and then, and I’ll encourage him to keep on being him.

Being mistaken for a girl is something that happens when you’re a boy with beautiful curls whose mom doesn’t particularly care what gender people think you are. It isn’t an insult or a negative assumption. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or shocked by. If you happen to call my boy a girl, you probably won’t even realize because I won’t correct you.

If you happen to discover you’ve mislabeled, please realize that this mama doesn’t care in the least, and that you owe no apology. I love hearing how my kid is sweet or beautiful or funny. Keep on telling me that and we’ll all be okay.

Tablets, Transitions, and Tantrums

Transitioning out of screen time doesn’t always go so well. Luckily there’s plenty of research to help ease the turmoil.

For a while, I thought letting my son watch PBS shows on our tablet was a great choice.  We had control over what he was watching because we knew the menu of available shows; and we trusted these shows because of their educational value.  I mean, what parent wouldn’t be proud that their son preferred learning about “creature powers” (on Wild Kratts) to playing video games?

But somehow, despite the high quality of these shows, tablet time was not going well in our house.  No matter how clear we thought we were being, our rules (the tablet could only be used two days per week, only for educational shows, and only for a limited time period), each time we took the tablet away from our son his behavior was surprisingly challenging.  He whined or yelled about having to stop, didn’t know how to listen to our directions on what he should do next, and often misbehaved physically or had trouble controlling his body.

Recently, we took the tablet away completely for a few weeks.  Yet, in the back of our minds we knew this drastic approach also wasn’t really the answer.  Kids need to learn about technology; would we be putting him at a disadvantage by keeping him away from it?  Would we evoke equally bad behavior by saying no every time he asked about the tablet?

My gut told me watching TV shows wasn’t the way to go, so we started telling him he could only use the tablet for activities that kept him active or helped him learn.  We got an account on gonoodle.com, a site for exercise, dance, and even meditation and yoga videos all designed for kids.  We downloaded an app for him to create his own books using photos and voice recording.  And we occasionally let him play a simple video game that requires him to build and race Lego vehicles.

We also started paying more attention.  Instead of using the tablet as a babysitter while we tried to get other things done, we were attentive to what he was doing (even if we also did dishes), we gave him plenty of time warnings and worked with him to decide when would be a good stopping point (“ok, so you have three minutes left – do you think you have time to build another vehicle or do you think you should stop now and just use the coloring app?”).   I even did a few Go Noodle exercise routines with him – not a bad thing for this busy mom who never has time for exercise!

Not surprisingly, this new approach has led to much more positive experiences with the tablet and much smoother transitions from tablet time to the next activity.

Screen Time and Kids

As it turns out, there’s research to back up what we’re finding to be useful in our household.

There is a great deal of research in the education field showing that children sometimes struggle with transitions from one activity to another and that “children may engage in challenging behavior when they do not understand the expectations for their transition” (Hemmeter et al, 2008).  While much of this research focuses on how day care providers or teachers can plan for transitions in the classroom, especially with larger groups of kids, the concept that transitions can be challenging for kids is just as useful for parents.  For children who have significant challenges transitioning from one activity to the next, Hemmeter et al (2008) suggest things like giving a signal before the transition is coming (a time limit warning for example); modeling transitions; and being prepared for the next activity before starting the transition.

Dr. Laurel Bongiorno, Dean of the Division of Education and Human Studies at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont is often asked about how kids should use technology and was inspired by these conversations to write 10 Technology Tips for Preschool Parents.  I had the opportunity to talk with her as I researched this topic.  Bongiorno noted that whenever kids are really focused, whether that be in building a block structure or watching something on the tablet, you have to give them time to switch gears.  “Think about how you would feel,” she said, “if someone walked in and turned out the lights in the middle of what you were doing and said, ‘time’s up’.”  In fact, Bongiorno watched parents who used tablets to entertain children at restaurants and realized that often those who had been given tablets actually ended up behaving worse than those who had been “passed from person to person until the food arrived”; she suggests that this may be because children who had the tablet taken out of their hands weren’t able to continue what they were doing (listen to her podcast on this topic).

Bongiorno noted we can help children transition away from screen time more smoothly by choosing activities that have some sort of predictable end or pausing point.  For example, she recommends choosing games for kids that can be broken up into levels or episodes to which they can return to the next time they use the tablet.  She also suggests that we create a ritual or routine about putting the technology away.  “When a child has reached his or her time limit,” she suggests, “walk them through putting the tablet away in its case or plugging it in so it can get recharged for the next time.”  If we want our child to put their technology away, she noted, we also have to look at our own use of technology; are you checking your phone at dinner, checking your email every five minutes while you cook?  As with many things we want our children to do, we have to practice what we preach.

Dr. Alexandra Samuel translated these tips for transition directly to the concept of screen time in her 2015 article “How to end Screen Time Without Tears” – a must read if you too are dealing with this issue.  I was pleased that Samuel’s tips aligned with the things we had been trying, like giving warnings on time limits (or even using a visual timer) and staying nearby.  Samuel suggests scheduling screen time right before another desirable or planned activity.  She also notes that we should “observe our children’s reactions” and “remove meltdown triggers” – in other words, if we notice that certain activities lead to worse behavior in our children we should try eliminating those types of activities.  This is just what we had discovered in switching from television shows to active and educational tools.

Some researchers worry about even more extreme long-term impacts of screen time.  In 2015, Dr. Victoria Dunkley published a book called Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-TimeThe first thing she promises after completing this four week plan?  Fewer meltdowns.  Dunkley summarizes her claims and findings in an article titled “Screentime is Making our Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy.”  While Dunkley’s claims may be more applicable to higher levels of screen time than my family allows, the links she proposes to impacts on children’s brains and to their ability to interact socially are important areas for further study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that we should be cautious on screen time, and has advised parents to limit screen time and offer non-electronic formats in their updated recommendations on Media and Children.  Among their recommendations: limiting screen time for children over 2 and teens to no more than two hours a day of high quality content and establishing “screen-free” zones at home.

As tempting as it is to use technology as a source of entertainment while we get other things done, I’ve realized this isn’t doing us any favors if it leads to worse behavior in the short term or even longer-term impacts on mental health or brain functioning.  Technology should not be off limits, but it should “used for good” just like any other super power.  Parents have to take responsibility for teaching that.  We can start by being more engaged with our kids when they are using technology and being more intentional about the ways they (and we!) are using it.

PS – We still love the Wild Kratts.  My son and I now try to watch it together on the big screen about once or twice a month, talking throughout and after the episode about what we’re learning.

The Benefits of “Because I Said So”

I begin this post with an apology to my mother for the millions of times the words “I don’t want to” came out of my mouth.

I begin this post with an apology to my mother for the millions of times the words “I don’t want to” came out of my mouth.

“I don’t want to go to sailing lessons.” “I don’t want to go to gymnastics class.” “I don’t want to go to tennis lessons.” “I don’t want to practice the piano.” I even remember sitting in front of the television watching the weather station with the hopes that sailing class would be cancelled due to a torrential rainstorm.

But, most of the time she made me go, and most of the time I ended up having a decent time once I got there; I’d say it was probably about a 60% success rate.

Fast forward thirty years and I find myself, predictably, in the same position. My six-year-old has a knack for saying “I don’t want to” before we even finish telling him what we’re going to do. He’s too tired to stay at afterschool, too sick to go outside, doesn’t want to go to the library; can’t we just stay home and watch a movie?

I’ll admit that he is much less stubborn when it comes to sports, namely because his crew of 3 or 4 best friends tend to always be there waiting for him at soccer practice or t-ball. But often, we find ourselves saying, “I don’t care if you don’t want to, we’re going.”

So what’s a mom (or dad) to do? Is forcing our kids to do something they initially say they don’t want to do just another form of being overscheduled and over-zealous with our kids lives, or do we really know what’s good for them?

In my case, the fact that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is a helpful lesson. You see, I didn’t like tennis lessons when I felt like I wasn’t as “cool” as the other girls in my group, but by the time I got to high school I had grown to love the sport and became captain of my high school tennis team.

I didn’t like sailing – and I’m sensing a trend here – because some of the wealthy kids were exclusionary and I hated feeling not good enough.

But the first time I hung out with the man who would become my husband I wowed him taking the helm of a sailboat and getting us out of a tight situation while he fixed some tangled lines.

As I watch my son, I see myself. Timid when he doesn’t know other kids, self-conscious about whether he’ll be good enough, and sometimes just downright lazy.

But I also see that once he gets over the “hump” of just getting out there and getting started, he begins to enjoy the activity and quite often cites it as his favorite part of the day.

Twice this week we went from full-scale yelling about getting geared up to go outside, to running through the snow with glee, building a fairy castle in the woods, and sledding until we couldn’t climb the hill another time.

In my case, knowing what’s best for my son has a lot to do with knowing what’s best for me, even when I don’t want to.

I still hesitate to put myself in situations with new people, even when I know it would be good for me professionally; sometimes I give myself an excuse to avoid the situation and other times I suck it up and try my best.

I have just as much trouble as my son motivating to get myself outside for some exercise; about half the time I push myself because I know it will make me feel better, and sometimes because I want to be a role model for him.

As adults, we get to make these choices for ourselves. We push ourselves to try new things or do what is good for us, but we also get to choose when it’s too much, or when we feel we’ve given it our best and it just isn’t going to work out. Sometimes we just need a break.

We have to give our kids some choice too. There were times when I was young when I just knew that quitting was the right thing to do – when my gymnastics coach was too tough for an 8-year old girl, or when I came home from sailing class still upset about having to go.

My parents eventually listened to me and I remember feeling a huge sense of relief. It also helped me to recognize the things I did enjoy and to gravitate toward those.

I suppose it comes down to asking ourselves how we would feel if we were in our kids shoes. If someone pushed us to do this thing we didn’t want to do, would we end up appreciating it in the end, or would we be miserable and angered at the loss of control?

So if my son tries something at my request, and he really, honestly, doesn’t like it, I’m not going to keep pushing. Some days I’m just going to give him a break and let him stay inside. But sometimes, if I truly believe that he’ll enjoy it in the end or that it will be good for him, I’m going to make him do something, “because I said so.”

Teaching Kids to Give Thanks Is One of the Best Things You Can Do for Them

Research shows that expressing thanks has incredible outcomes for health, happiness, and productivity. Fortunately, there are many simple ways that you can instill gratitude in your kids.

Teaching your kids how to practice gratitude is one of the very best things you can do for them.

This isn’t just a nice thing to say; decades of research shows that people (including kids) who feel gratitude and give thanks are more productive, happier, and mentally and physically healthier.

Measurable Benefits of Gratitude in Kids

According to a 3-year study at the University of California, people who practice gratitude consistently have:

  • Stronger immune systems and healthier blood pressure.
  • Better psychological health, with fewer toxic emotions.
  • Better sleep.
  • Increased mental strength.
  • Greater happiness and optimism.
  • More generosity and compassion.
  • Less loneliness and feelings of isolation.
  • (See footnotes below for links to further sources, studies and research on this topic.)

Kids who understand gratitude have better grades and are less likely to get depressed. They also have greater resilience and empathy.

In  “Making Grateful Kids,” Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., and Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D. write:

“Evidence from our own research suggests that grateful young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more emotional support to others. We’ve also found that grateful teens (ages 14-19) are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.”

Before Science, Religion Understood Gratitude

If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.” – Meister Eckhart

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Birkot ha-Shachar,” the Jewish prayer of Dawn Blessings recited at the start of each day are a “litany of thanksgiving for life itself” – “Modeh/Modah ani, “I thank you” 

“Allah will reward the grateful.” – Quran 3: 144, Shakir translation

“You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy.” – The Buddha

“Gratitude is exalted as one of the most important virtues (dharma) in many Hindu texts,” says Dr. Vasudha Narayanan, Distinguished Professor of Religion, University of Florida.

Gratitude is central to every world religion. Indeed, lack of lack of gratitude is frequently considered one of humanities greatest sins.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. – Cicero

The opposite of gratitude is entitlement. Entitlement stunts resilience and self-sufficiency.  Also, people who lack gratitude also tend to lack empathy. Like “gratitude,” empathy isn’t just a feel-good word: it’s a critical skill for success for our interconnected world.

Every parent knows that young kids are among the least grateful creatures on Earth.

They totally take for granted the nourishing food, warm shelter, education, and entertainment we work so hard to provide for them.

We also know that one our main responsibilities is teaching our kids to give thanks. Almost all kids have to learn how to do this — it’s not something they’re born knowing (though they may be primed for it). They learn how to practice gratitude — and reap its rewards —  through a mix of intentional lessons, practical experience, and exposure to role models.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Christine Carter, director of the Greater Good Science Center Parenting Program at UC Berkeley said that “gratitude only arises naturally without cultivation under conditions of scarcity.”

But a recent study highlighted in the Wall Street Journal showed that gratitude is indeed a mindset that kids can learn. (Research Finds Real Benefits for Kids Who Say ‘Thank You’)

Studies also show that gratitude is strengthened through practice. Teaching gratitude at home can be an intentional practice, backed by simple, practical lessons woven into family life.

Gradually learning to give thanks is part of healthy childhood development.

Most babies are born wired to pay attention to other humans around them. But it takes a few years before they can truly understand or express gratitude. As they grow older, gratitude becomes a sign of emotional maturity.

For young kids, start with having them about the good things that happened in their day (the classic roses and thorns question).

Middle-grade kids are focused on gratitude for gifts and physical goods. Parents can help them extend their gratitude by showing appreciation for non-material things.

High school kids can understand the greater meaning of gratitude as they begin to relate their lives to the context of the greater world.

Tips For Instilling Gratitude in Your Kids

Grandma happily talking and spending time with her grandchildren

1. Model Gratitude

Embodying a grateful attitude might be the most important part of teaching it. That’s because everyday actions can be more impactful than a few big efforts.

In a profile in the Wall Street Journal, University of California, Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons says, “The old adage that virtues are caught, not taught, applies here. It’s not what parents want to hear, but you cannot give your kids something that you yourselves do not have.”

2. Make Sure Kids Are Contributing (aka, Chores)

Household chores have many proven benefits—academically, emotionally and even professionally.

But it also teaches kids to feel gratitude. One of the reasons kids (and grownups) can’t feel or give gratitude is because they simply don’t understand the hard work that goes into making things happen. Chores help teach them that. That’s part of the reason that doing chores is a strong indicator for future success in life.

3. Give Your Kids Allowance – And Let Them Spend It

Just as chores teach kids to appreciate work, allowance teaches kids to appreciate the value of money. When your kids spend your money, it has no meaning. They’ve never put in the hard work to cook, clean, earn, themselves.

Research shows that allowance can lower intrinsic motivation and performance (aka, chores). Read more about the benefits of allowance.

4. Make Time to Give Intentional Appreciations

Appreciation and gratitude are connected. You give it, and you get it.

Family Meetings are a perfect opportunity for sharing appreciations with your family. Corny, but it works.

Creating an intentional space to give appreciations also teaches kids to be specific when they give gratitude and say thanks. Being able to express exactly what one is grateful for is an advanced skill that takes practice to develop.

 5. Create Intentional Family Gratitude Activities

Make a list of all the things each person is grateful for. Hang it someplace highly visible in the house. Pin it up and add to it.

Or, create a gratitude journal. Again, sounds corny but it works. Numerous studies have shown that writing down things we’re grateful for helps people improve happiness and health.

6. Volunteer & Donate to a Cause as a Family

Religion and psychology agree that practicing sacrifice is essential to gratitude.

Service is a key element in fostering gratitude. Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Research shows that people feel more grateful as givers rather than as receivers. And volunteering also gives a chance to see how much they may have in contrast to others.

A Practice or an Emotion?

Finally, it’s worth considering what gratitude is in the first place. The classic definition is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne.

But is it an emotion, a mindset, a practice or a discipline? Perhaps it’s all of these things. Above all, it can be passed down to your kids and nurtured in the world.

10 Links For Further Reading:
  1. The Science of Gratitude
  2. The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier
  3. Why Gratitude is Good For You
  4. Teach Kids Gratitude With These Tips At Different Ages
  5. Teach Your Child the Importance of Appreciation
  6. Tips for Every Age How To Raise Grateful Kids
  7. Gratitude Activities for the Classroom
  8. In Praise of Gratitude 
  9. Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude 
  10. Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude In Kids