Are you raising an ungrateful child?

Expressing gratitude can be tricky … for kids and adults.

It’s so easy to freak out when we think we are raising ungrateful and unappreciative children… or we think others may think that of us. The reality is that gratitude can be tricky to manage and express – for adults, too!

Consider these two scenarios:

? Your partner takes you out for a special dinner, but instead of the fancy candlelight dinner you’ve been imagining all day, you find yourself freezing in line at a food truck.  Your partner is grinning at you – excited because this place serves the carne asada tacos that you like so much. But you just want to cry.

? You accidently found a gift receipt for your favorite store and are excited about the present you are about to open – finally you’re getting that sweater you’ve been wanting! You open the gift and it’s a pillowcase.  Seeing your confusion, the gift giver excitedly offers that it will help with the wrinkles on your face. Yep. Explanation doesn’t help. At all.

In both scenarios, it’s not that you don’t appreciate the giver’s intention or their effort, but in that moment, you are completely thrown off.

You’re flushed with emotions from surprise (and not the good kind) to disappointment (no crème brulée tonight??) to confusion (I was hoping to wear that sweater to the party tomorrow – now what?). Not to mention you’re freezing because you wore a nice dress expecting to sit inside a heated restaurant.

And for our kids – situations like these are even more difficult because children lack the emotional maturity and experience that is required to graciously express gratitude.

A few things to consider:

  • It’s not that kids don’t understand/appreciate gratitude, it’s just really, really hard sometimes to not react. They are learning and growing and will get there! And related…
  • If your child is disappointed, it’s not a reflection of their feelings towards you or others. They are just, well, disappointed.
  • Children truly don’t often understand what went on behind the scenes to make the magic happen. (They have no idea you spent hours calling stores and posting in FB groups to snag the popular toy – even if you did end up with the “wrong” color.)
  • Kids are still trying to understand how everything works. (Your child intentionally asked Santa for only one thing and spent the last month daydreaming about riding their new bike. They thought it was a done deal.)
  • It can be super uncomfortable to receive and open gifts – for adults, too! Especially with lots of anticipatory eyes on you as you open the gift.

If you’re anticipating your children struggling with showing gratitude this season, here are some things you can do before the big day:

  • First, let’s reframe our thoughts. Instead of “My child is ungrateful,”  “My child doesn’t appreciate me,” or “My child is entitled,” try My child is disappointed/sad/surprised.”
  • Acknowledge that disappointment is normal and it’s something that adults struggle with, too. Share a story about a time you received a gift you didn’t like – how you felt, what you had wished for, how you handled it.
  • Help them understand what gift-giving and receiving is really about. Responding with a genuine thank you can be more about acknowledging the gift giver’s thoughtfulness than the gift itself.
  • Model how to graciously receive a gift. Even better, afterwards, if you received a gift you didn’t care for, share that with your child after the guest leaves and walk them through your thought process.
  • Create a plan with your child so they are prepared to better handle disappointment. For example, before a gift exchange takes place, talk to your child about how to receive a gift – what feelings they may have and how to manage them.
  • Role-play. Wrap up random items like a potato or an eraser and have your child practice accepting the gift. Make it a game. Make it fun. What would you do if you opened up a present from your uncle and it was an apple?

? Ooops …it happened anyway? Your child melted over grandma’s gift of marbles? No problem!

First, give grandma a smile and thank her for the thoughtful gift (this is also an example of modeling). 

Then later talk to your child about making repairs. Maybe they can write a thank you letter? Bake some cookies for grandma? Not only will the gift giver be appreciative, but it will also give your child an opportunity to make things right as chances are they probably feel bad about the way they acted. Then work on the steps above to work out a plan for next time. 

Rinse and repeat. ?

Related Articles