A concern I frequently hear from parents relates to their teen’s lack of gratitude.
Jane, a parent of a high school freshman said this:
“She acts like we are the worst people, like we are ruining her life. She doesn’t realize how easy she has it!”
Lisa, whose daughter is a high school junior described this:
“Our daughter always tells us we never do anything for her. In fact, we do so much! She doesn’t have chores, we drive her wherever she wants to go, and she has all the stuff she could ever want! But I can’t even remember the last time she said thank you!”
And Dan, father of a future college freshman put it simply:
“We just don’t want to raise an ungrateful and entitled teen.”
Raising Grateful Teens
I don’t know a single parent who wants to raise an ungrateful teen but often they don’t know how to instill the sense of gratitude that they’d like to see. . Demanding gratitude or hoping gratitude will grow out of pointing out their teen is acting spoiled and entitled do not necessarily have the desired outcome.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion that must be felt before it can be authentically expressed. It involves a deep sense of appreciation that doesn’t come out of being told it’s important. Authentic gratitude comes from within. While there are several ways to promote an internal sense of gratitude in your teen, one of the most effective is to focus on strengthening her Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence and gratitude go hand in hand. Grateful teens tend to have stronger EQ and teens with a strong EQ can more readily access an attitude of gratitude. If your efforts growing a grateful teen have left you feeling frustrated and angry, approaching it through Emotional Intelligence can help.
Three aspects of EQ that are closely aligned with gratitude are 1) awareness of positive emotions, 2) understanding of personal strength and 3) connection with core values
Building Awareness of Positive Emotions
A simple way to build your teen’s awareness of positive emotions is to point it out! When she’s feeling upbeat and positive, say “I notice you’re in a great mood today! What’s making the day so good?” The point is to help your teen recognize when she’s in a positive emotional state and what caused the positive emotion.
Developing an Understanding of Personal Strengths
One of the most effective ways to help your teen understand her strengths is to highlight them. Use the word “respect” and link a strength to a specific action or outcome. For example, you can say “I noticed how, with that challenging friend situation, you took time to reflect on the best outcome for everyone. I really respect your patience and compassion for others.” (This type of observation also promotes your daughter’s self-esteem and builds a strong parent-teen relationship.)
Cultivating Connection with Core Values
Your teen’s values are a central part of who she is and who she is becoming. They reflect what is important to her and what guides her thinking and actions. The more you talk about values, using the specific word “values” and connecting it with an action or choice, her value awareness will deepen. You can also use thought-provoking questions like, “Tell me about a time you felt the happiest. What was important about that day?” Another simple question is, “What’s really important to you right now?”
As your teen develops an awareness of her positive emotions, an understanding of her personal strengths, and a connection with her core values, her ability to show you true appreciation and gratitude will improve.