Instilling True Gratitude in Children!

Andrea and David Reiser, authors of Letters from Home: A Wake-Up Call for Success and Wealth, explain why we should teach our kids a true sense of gratitude—for where we live, the privileges we have, and for our family and friends!


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How do you instill gratitude in your children?

Sometimes it's hard to get our children to understand how lucky they are!  How do you give your kids a sense of thankfullness?

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Venture out to the mall, and you’ll doubtless see multiple examples of what’s fast becoming the “typical” kid: selfish, entitled, impolite, ungrateful, and constantly plugged in to video games, computers, cell phones, etc. You’ve encountered kids like this often—and perhaps, despite your best intentions, you’re afraid the previous description might apply to your own children as well. Overall, it seems that parents across the country have thrown up their hands in frustration and defeat—but David and Andrea Reiser say that we don’t have to settle for an America full of kids who take everything they have for granted.

“Yes, it is possible to reclaim our capacity to parent and to refocus our children’s attention and values,” promises Andrea, co-author along with her husband David of the new book Letters From Home: A Wake-up Call for Success & Wealth (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4706379-2-0, $27.95, www.ReiserMedia.com). “And at the center of the values we teach ought to be a profound sense of gratitude—for where we live, for the rights and privileges we have here, for family and friends—not to mention the many material blessings most kids have.”

“Imagine how different our country would be if everyone thanked friends for being friends, workers for doing their jobs well, and so forth,” urges Andrea. “We’d all be more connected and enjoy a much more encompassing sense of community. And guess what? That kind of change starts at home.”

In fact, the fruits they’ve seen grow from instilling basic life values—like gratitude—in their own household inspired Andrea and David to write Letters From Home. Written in the form of letters to the authors’ four sons, the book explores 15 basic American virtues that built our country and that foster individual and familial success.

Below are tips from Andrea and David on how to instill a sense of gratitude in our children: 

Don’t just count your blessings—name them. Have a minute of thanks in the morning—you and your kids can each name a few things you’re thankful for. Whether the list includes a favorite toy, a good grade, or a hug from Grandma, this tradition will start the day off in a positive frame of mind.

Be a grateful parent. As most parents know, the way you treat your kids affects their development much more than the rules you set. When it comes to gratitude, tell your kids why you’re grateful to have them….and do it often.

Don’t shower them with too much stuff. This dilutes the “gratitude” impulse. Remember, all things in moderation…including your kids’ stuff. Yes, it’s okay to want to give your children the best, and the Reisers certainly aren’t suggesting you refuse to buy them anything but the bare essentials…just don’t go overboard.

When your child wants something, make him pitch in. (Don’t be the sole provider.) If your child receives an allowance (or, for older kids, has a job), think twice before letting him pocket every last penny. If he wants a new video game, bike, or even to go on a trip with friends, ask him to help save for those things himself.

Keep a stack of thank-you cards on hand. Insist that your kids use them often. By and large, sending out thank-you notes is one of those arts that seems to be dying. Don’t let that be the case in your house. Send out regular thank-you notes—definitely when your child receives a gift, but also to teachers at the end of the school year, for example, and to Little League coaches and ballet teachers.

Set a good example. Say “thank you” sincerely and often. “Do as I say, not as I do” is, at best, an ineffective parenting strategy. The values your children espouse as their lives proceed aren’t those that you nag them into learning, but the ones they see you living out.

Ask your kids to give back. The old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive” has stuck around for a reason. It really does feel great to help someone else out. Depending on their ages, encourage your kids to rake leaves for an elderly neighbor, say, or volunteer at a nursing home a few hours a week.

Insist on politeness and respect all around. When your kids treat other people with dignity and respect, they’ll be more likely to appreciate the ways in which those folks contribute to and improve their own lives. They’ll be less likely to take assistance and kindness for granted, and more likely to value it as much as it deserves.

Look for teachable moments. Yes, it’s important to have conversations about values with your children on a regular basis—but be aware that from time to time, situations that illustrate your point perfectly will arise. Be prepared to use them as the powerful teaching aids that they are.

Find the silver lining. We’re all tempted to see the glass half-empty from time to time…and kids are no exception. When you hear your child complaining or griping about something, try to find a response that looks on the bright side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason—it’s about perspective more than circumstance.

About the Authors:

David Reiser is a senior vice president–wealth management at MorganStanley SmithBarney, with offices in Westport, Connecticut, and Newport, Rhode Island. With over 24 years of professional wealth management experience, he is a Certified Financial PlannerTM, a Senior Investment Management Consultant, and serves on MSSB’s Consulting Group Advisory Board. David is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He holds an MBA from The Lally School of Management & Technology and an MS from the College for Financial Planning. He is a co-author of Wealthbuilding: Investment Strategies for Retirement and Estate Planning (Wiley, 2002), and has appeared on CNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, Bloomberg TV, and PBS.

A graduate of Boston University College of Communication, Andrea Reiser is an alarm clock, banker, censor, chauffeur, cheerleader, chef, chief justice, chore delegator, coach, concierge, confidante, correctional officer, crossing guard, curfew warden, diplomat, disc jockey, entertainer, fashion stylist, facilities manager, hairdresser, homework advisor, housekeeper, hygiene consultant, internet safety monitor, inventory manager, juggler, loan officer, lost-and-found attendant, magician, nurse, paramedic, party planner, peacekeeper, personal assistant, purchasing agent, recreation director, referee, reference librarian, relationship specialist, repairperson, shepherd, shipping/receiving agent, snuggler, teacher, transportation coordinator, travel agent, waitress, and zookeeper. More simply put, she’s a mom with a sense of humor. She is a co-author of Wealthbuilding: Investment Strategies for Retirement and Estate Planning (Wiley, 2002).

To purchase Letters from Home, click here.