Parenting with a PhD: Kids and Gratitude, Part 2

By Kristen Berthiaume

Last year around this time, we talked about how to instill gratitude in your kids.  You can find that article right here.  In it, there were some ideas about helping your child learn to appreciate what he has in life, be it toys, relationships, or experiences, by having him work for what he gets, say thank you, and count his blessings.  A couple of reminders in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing:

Just because your child may have everything doesn’t mean she needs access to everything all the time.  Rotate out some of the toys in her room.  Set up a system so she earns her screen time.  Let her wait a little while for what she wants to do.  She may not thank you for these restrictions but, in the long run, you’ll be doing her a big favor!

Keep sharing.  Help your child learn to share his money, his time, and his toys (but considering letting him pick a couple of a favorite toys to keep to himself).  You may have to make sharing non-optional at first but start small.  Be sure to explain why it’s such an important thing to do and how what he shares helps other people.  Make sure you also model sharing for him so he knows adults are expected to share, too.  Over time, he’ll (hopefully) come to embrace sharing and want to do even more of it. (Just encourage him to keep his germs to himself – it is flu season, after all!)
Say thank you.  Duh!

Count your blessings as a family.  At breakfast: What are you grateful for today?  Don’t allow any repeats in the same month.  At dinner: What was the best thing that happened today?  Make sure you participate, too.  You might be surprised by how it changes your outlook!

Given that it’s almost election time and we’re all feeling a bit cynical about life right about now, I thought some new ideas about gratitude might be a fun departure.  So, here’s “Kids and Gratitude: New and Improved!” (well, at least “New”).

Start a gratefulness chain. Cut strips of construction paper with each family member getting a different color.  Daily, everyone writes down one thing he or she is grateful for.  Staple the strips together to form rings and link each ring to the one you made the day before.  Use the gratefulness chains to decorate for Thanksgiving or for a Christmas tree garland that’s much more meaningful than tinsel.  Start a new chain with a new color next year around this same time.  Connect the chains from year-to-year and reflect back on how the things you’re grateful for have changed over time (after all, there was probably once a time you were really grateful for NKOTB).

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Test out this theory by having everyone in the family give up one thing that’s important to them for the month (or week or day, depending on your children’s ages and how difficult this will be for them) (or you). This should be totally voluntary and each person should pick what he or she is going to sacrifice without too much pressure from anyone else – helpful suggestions are always…well…helpful.  Examples of what to give up might be not-so-great habits like too much T.V. watching or shopping (a regular amount of shopping is, of course, just fine) or favored items like a special doll or train set.  Use this time to talk with each other about how the activity or object is important and why it’s difficult to go without.  See if new habits or favorites develop.  At the end of the designated period, discuss with family members setting goals for how you might approach the activities or handle the objects differently in the future.  Your son might decide that playing outside was pretty great, too, so maybe no videogames until it’s dark out.  Your daughter may admit that leaving her favorite toy on the floor wasn’t the best way to take care of it and pledge to be more careful in the future.  Congratulate everyone on going without and remind yourselves how lucky you are to have those favorites!  Take this activity a step further by researching and talking about people in the world who don’t have these luxuries at all.  Consider what your family might do to help, be it donating clothes and toys, giving money or to charity, or volunteering your time.

Be grateful when you’re not.  It’s easier to be grateful when everything’s going your way but there’s value in finding the proverbial “silver lining” in frustrating situations.  Ask your older kids to think of a person or situation that they are definitely not grateful for and share one yourself.  Maybe it’s an annoying co-worker for you or a boring piano lesson for your daughter.  Then, challenge everyone to think of something about that person or situation that they are grateful for.  You might be grateful that the co-worker is conscientious, even if he’s hard to interact with.  Your daughter might be glad she can read music, even though the lessons seem to last forever.  After you’ve practiced this skill, look for opportunities when someone is griping to encourage him or her to find a positive – be it a “life lesson” or a chance to improve.  This isn’t an easy task but can improve everyone’s mood and ability to overcome obstacles.  That’s definitely something to be grateful for!

I realize that talking about gratitude around Thanksgiving might give the impression that this is the only time to think about this kind of stuff.  In reality, this is just a good season to start your thankfulness habits so you can continue them throughout the year.  More important than anything you might buy your child this year, the gift of gratitude is one that can last a lifetime – with some gentle reminders and a little practice, of course.

And, once again, THANK YOU for reading!

About this column: Send your parenting- and kid-related questions my way and I’ll tell you what I can: Please be aware that email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information so it’s best to keep your questions general. If your question is featured, your name and email will not be published. Submitting a question does not constitute a professional relationship in any way and this column is not meant to substitute for face-to-face therapy. If you feel you’re doing the best you can and still need help, it may be time to bring in a professional. Start by talking with your child’s pediatrician to get a referral.


Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates ( She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psycholo

gy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, be

havioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her five-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

3 thoughts on “Parenting with a PhD: Kids and Gratitude, Part 2

  1. I always love your columns. They always seem to put things into perspective and shine a little light on some things we all keep hidden (like our fascination with NKOTB!) One thing that we have instituted in the past year is spending our dinner time discussing how we helped someone else that day. It doesn’t have to be anything big, it just has to be something…after all sometimes it is those little acts of kindness that can change someone’s day. Thanks again Kristen and keep them coming!!

    1. Thanks for weighing in! Almost every morning or afternoon we have a conversation with our oldest daughter about helping at least 1 person a day. We think it teaches her so many things.. Kindness, compassion and that it’s not always about her needs..

      Thanks for reading!

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