Ask Miriam | How Do You Teach Gratitude to Children?

a young child writes thank you on a piece of paper
Hakase_ / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dear Miriam,

How can I teach gratitude to my middle class, privileged 6-year-old? He takes his belongings for granted, doesn’t understand the value of things we pay for and generally doesn’t realize how good he’s got it. How can we help him appreciate the life we’re providing for him?


Spoiled at Six

Dear Spoiled,

Sounds like you have your hands full with a typical, tyrannical, self-centered, happy, well cared for child.

If you’ve always given your son everything he needs, and so he expects his needs will be met, there’s no reason for him to realize the efforts you put in, or that not everyone shares his experiences of contentment. No one’s done anything wrong, but if you feel it’s time for a reality check, there are some simple and age-appropriate changes you can implement.

First, expect him to say please and thank you. It’s a small step, but just getting in the habit of using words of appreciation can shift a child’s mindset. Also, if you feel appreciated in these small ways, you’ll have more patience for enacting bigger changes. Model these small niceties, and remind him about them during your daily routines.

Next, have him help you. He should see where his clean clothes come from and that laundry is a household job. He should know that trash has to be collected and taken out, that food has to be cooked and dishes washed. Bringing him to the grocery store is an opportunity to see how the food gets bought, how you decide what to buy and how much things cost. You can assign him chores if you like, but instilling a basic understanding of what is involved in keeping your lives functioning is just as important.

Finally, make sure he knows that the money from your jobs buys him the things he wants and needs, and that some people don’t have enough money.

Say hello to homeless people and smile rather than walking by and pretending they don’t exist. Talk to him about donating money to help people in need. Have your son collect outgrown clothes to donate to shelters, outgrown books to donate to low-income schools, and canned goods to donate to food pantries. Talk explicitly about where these things are going and why. Answer his questions honestly, which will keep him thinking about his life compared to others.

Your son is six. In some ways, you want him to take these comforts for granted, and that’s why you’ve worked hard to provide them. In other ways, it’s the right time to open his eyes to more realities and involve him in the bigger picture. Starting now will help ensure that as he gets older, he appreciates you and his life, that he understands the need to take responsibility for tasks and that he feels compelled to help those who are less fortunate.

Be well,



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here