Your Parenting Mojo

070: Why isn’t my child grateful?


“I spent the whole morning painting and doing origami and felting projects with my daughter – and not only did she not say “thank you,” but she refused to help clean up!” (I actually said this myself this morning:-))

“We took our son to Disneyland and went on every ride he wanted to go on except one, which was closed, and he spent the rest of the trip whining about how the whole trip was ruined because he didn’t get to go on that one ride.” (I hope I never have to say this one…I’m not sure I could make it through Disneyland in one piece.)

You might recall that we did an episode a while back on manners, and what the research says about teaching manners, and how what the research says about teaching manners comes from the assumption that manners MUST be explicitly taught – that your child will NOT learn to say “thank you” unless you tell your child “say thank you” every time someone gives them a gift.

We also talked about how parent educator Robin Einzig uses the concept of “modeling graciousness” and that if you treat other people graciously, when your child is ready, she will be gracious as well.  The problem here, of course, is that most people expect your child to display some kind of manners before they are developmentally ready to really understand the concept behind it.

But what really underlies manners?  Well, ideas like gratitude.  Because when we train children to say “thank you” before they are ready to do it themselves they might learn to recite the words at the appropriate time, but they aren’t really experiencing gratitude.

Dr. Jonathan Tudge of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro tells us much more about this, and how we can scaffold our child’s ability to experience gratitude, if we decide we might want to do that.

Dr. Tudge’s book, Developing Gratitude in Children and Adolescents (co-edited with Dr. Lia B. L. Freitas) contains lots more academic research on this topic if you’re interested.



Halberstadt, A.G., Langley, H.A., Hussong, A.M., Rothenberg, W.A., Coffman, J.L., Mokrova, I., & Costanzo, P.R. (2016). Parents’ understanding of gratitude in children: A thematic analysis. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 36, 439-451.

Kiang, l. Mendonca S., Liang, Y., Payir, A., O’Brien, L.T., Tudge, J.R.H., & Freitas, L.B.L. (2016). If children won lotteries: Materialism, gratitude, and imaginary windfall spending. Young Consumers 17(4), 408-418.

Mendonca, S.E., Mercon-Vargas, E.A., Payir, A., & Tudge, J.R.H. (2018). The development of gratitude in seven societies: Cross-cultural highlights. Cross-Cultural Research 52(1), 135-150.

Mercon-Vargas, E.A., Poelker, A.E., & Tudge, J.R.H. (2018). The development of the virtue of gratitude: Theoretical foundations and cross-cultural issues. Cross-Cultural Research 52(1), 3-18.

Mokrova, I.L., Mercon-Vargas, E.A., & Tudge, J.R.H. (2018). Wishes, gratitude, and spending preferences in Russian Children. Cross-Cultural Research 52(1), 102-116.

Nelson, J.A., Freitas, L.B.L., O’Brien, M., Calkins, S.D., Leerkes, E.M., & Marcovich, S. (2013). Preschool-aged children’s understanding of gratitude: Relations with emotion and mental state knowledge. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 31, 42056.

Tudge, J.R.H., & Freitas, L.B.L. (Eds.) (2018). Developing gratitude in children and adolescents. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.

Wang, D., Wang, Y.C., & Tudge, J.R.H. (2015). Expressions of gratitude in children and adolescents: Insights from China and the United States. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 46(8), 1039-1058.


Read Full Transcript



Jen:                                      00:38                   Hello and welcome to today’s episode of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. You might recall that we did an episode a while back on manners and what the research says about teaching manners and how what the research says about teaching manners comes from the assumption that manners must be explicitly taught, that your child will not learn to say thank you unless you tell your child, say thank you every time someone gives them a gift. We also talked about how parent educator Robin Einzig uses the concept of “modeling graciousness” and that if you treat other people graciously when your child is ready, she will be gracious as well. The problem here, of course, is that most people expect your child to display some kind of manners before they’re developmentally ready to really understand the concept behind it. Recently I saw an article from the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center about the development of gratitude and I saw it quoted Professor Jonathan Tudge, who is actually edited a very recent book of research called developing gratitude in children and adolescents, and I knew we’d found the right person to speak with about this.

Jen:                                      01:42 Professor Tudge, who goes by “Jon,” works in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, although you will hear from his accent in a minute that he’s perhaps not native to that part of the world. Most of his research focuses on the interrelations between the social world and children’s social, moral and cognitive development. He draws heavily on the ideas of Lev Vygotsky and Urie Bronfenbrenner, both of whom are practically old friends of our regular listeners by now, which means he’s interested in how social relationships shape development and in observing children “in the wild” as it were, rather than in lab situations. Welcome Jon.

Dr. Tudge:                          02:18 Welcome Jen. Thanks.

Jen:                                      02:20                   Thank you. So let’s start with the easy questions. What is gratitude? How do you define it?

Dr. Tudge:                          02:27                   Yeah. It’s not terribly easy.

Jen:                                      02:29                   No, it’s not.

Dr. Tudge:                          02:30                   No. Um, I think there are three aspects to a definition of gratitude. First of all, there has to be a benefactor, so when who’s now given something that’s really nice or who’s helped in some nice way and second beneficiary, the person that received that has to appreciate the good intention of the benefactor and feel good about that person and about what’s being done. And third, I think this is the most important part, has to be interested, really addressed. It has to want to desire to reciprocate in some way if there’s an appropriate opportunity. So there are three different parts to what I think is a good definition of the word.

Jen:                                      03:11                   And so that sort of leads me to think that we’re going to struggle with this in very young children.

Dr. Tudge:                          03:19                   Uh, yes, we are. Obviously they’re not going to be grateful they’re not, they’re not. They’re not going to be grateful. Well, we have to be doing, I think is to try to think about ways in which we can best enable them over time to become the sort of grateful individuals we’d like them to be.

Dr. Tudge:                          03:38                   Yeah, and even adults I think struggle with this and I have struggled with this over the years and only, probably in the last maybe five to 10 years or so, have become more cognizant of the fact that when I do someone a favor, when I do something for them, it matters more that the favor, you know, it might be a very small favor, but if it’s something that the other person wants, that’s much better than something that I might perceive as being a really big deal and doing that for that person. If it’s not something the person really valued in the first place.

Dr. Tudge:                          04:08                   That’s right. Although I have to say, you know, if you try to do something that you think is going to be really nice for that person, I think that person ought to be grateful anyway because your intention was to do something nice for that person, right. So I think intentions do matter and that’s another reason why you can’t expect too much your children because it’s hard for children to understand exactly what someone else’s intention is.

Jen:                                      04:34                   Yeah, yeah, it is. Okay. So you have a very specific definition of gratitude and I think that from what I’ve read in your research and the research of others that can create problems when you try and measure gratitude because it seems as though all the tools that are used to measure it or looking at much more general concepts about how thankful is the child for being able to watch a sunset or for having things in their lives and that kind of thing. How does all that fit together?

Dr. Tudge:                          05:01                   Yeah. It doesn’t fit very well at all that I think that most people who say they’re measuring gratitude are in fact measuring his appreciation, which is a different concept; its much broader. I have no problem with any of those scale as being a really good way of measuring how appreciative we are of all sorts of things. Whether it’s like you say, a beautiful sunset or the fact that is finally stopped thundering and lightning here, where I am, or the fact that you know, I live in a nice apartment here and I’m so much better off than anybody else, so I can appreciate all those sorts of things. I can appreciate the fact that I reached the grand old age of 69 and I’m very healthy. I mean so many things and that has almost nothing to do with gratitude.

Jen:                                      05:46                   And that’s specifically because nobody else is responsible for that. Right? There’s no benefactor that bestowed that on you.

Dr. Tudge:                          05:53 There’s no benefactor.

Jen:                                      05:54                   Unless you have a particular world belief.

Dr. Tudge:                          05:58                   Well, yeah, you might. Even then that’s not enough. I think so. If I think the older this is your, for example, God, given which I might, but still if I don’t reciprocate in some way, just accept these things as my good fortune of my good luck or whatever, but don’t try and do anything to reciprocate I’m not being grateful. And I think that notion of trying to reciprocate if at all possible, you know, when it’s appropriate to do so is really important. So for example, if the sun was shining at the end of the day, beautiful sunset and I don’t appreciate it, people would never accuse me of being ungrateful, you know, it’d be stupid, wouldn’t it? They might say he’s unappreciative or you know, have a nice meal and I just wolf it down. You would never say I’m ungrateful for the meal or that I’m unappreciative of it.

Dr. Tudge:                          06:48                   You might say I’m ungrateful to the person who has taken the time to cook it for me. But that’s because gratitude is towards another person. And if someone has done something nice for me, I don’t think it matters terribly much how warm and fuzzy I feel they know a good emotional response to that, that wonderful meal or that kind act. That’s great. It’s nice, it feels good for me. But if I had the chance to do something for that person, when that person needs it and I don’t do anything, it doesn’t matter how warm, fuzzy, and emotionally appreciative I was, I’m still an ungrateful jerk because I didn’t help when I had the challenge to do so. So I think it really got to distinguish between those two things, between appreciation and gratitude, and even talking about gratitude. You can’t ignore an grateful ingratitude.

Jen:                                      07:47                   So that makes me wonder then how critical is the other person’s need and reciprocating that gratitude if you never see the person have a need or is that just a completely unrealistic scenario? People are always going to have a need that you could potentially come in and fulfill.

Dr. Tudge:                          08:01                   No, I don’t think so. I think there oftentimes people do things for you and you never have a chance to reciprocate and that does not make you an ungrateful person. You know, we can’t always do it. And even if you know, let’s say it’s pouring with rain, you can tell what’s been going on here the last couple of days. It’s pouring with rain. You’ve really helped me. And I’m driving along and my little sports car – I don’t actually have a sports car but let’s say I do – and your stuck there by the side of the road. Should I pick you up? Well, of course I should if I’m a grateful person, but it so happens that right next to you is a heavily pregnant young woman who’s just about to give birth and needs to get to the hospital. I ignore you and pick her up and take you. One would say I’m ungrateful in that sense. There are some situations in which we can’t actually reciprocate and there are some times when we can reciprocate, but we still don’t actually do so for valid reasons. When we call so an ungrateful, it’s because they typically, when they have a relevant opportunity to reciprocate to someone that’s already done something nice for them, they don’t do that. And I don’t care how emotionally warm they felt when they got the benefit. If they don’t try and help when they have a chance, they’re not grateful. It’s that simple.

Jen:                                      09:28                   So then I think you’ve partially answered the question that is on all the parents’ minds, which is is the act of saying thank you, gratitude.

Dr. Tudge:                          09:40                   Well that’s a really interesting question, isn’t it? Because I [unintelligible] gratitude, but I think there are different types of gratitude and when you talk about a young child, you know, the mere fact of saying and meaning it, oh thank you Auntie Jen for giving me that, you know, is appropriate at the age. But if all we ever do is say thank you as adults and never tried to reciprocate, I think that’s not enough. So I think we got to think about not just gratitude is some generic thing, but rather has different types of gratitude that people can express. And you know, “thank you: is the simplest form. It is. It’s easily confused with just politeness. It doesn’t have anything to do necessarily with gratitude, but it could. I mean if you do something for me and I immediately say, “Oh Jen, thank you so much. I mean that was just absolutely wonderful what you’ve done for me. If ever I find a way to repay you, I’ll certainly try and do that.” That sounds to me like an expression of gratitude, right? So it’s not an grateful behavior, but I think we can do more on the more is that notion of reciprocation. So for young children that, that, you know saying thank you is not a bad thing at all.

Jen:                                      11:05                   All right, so. So then let’s dig into that a little bit because just the getting the child to say “thank you” can be problematic. And so as we talked about in our episode on manners, the research basically concludes you have to do this and so what I am interested in is understanding does this hurt or does it help? So different researchers looked at whether parents will say say thank you to your child. Or some parents will say, “What do you say?” Well there’s only really one response there and I’ve sort of gone down a bit of a different tack in which when somebody gives my daughter a gift, I give her a minute. And most of the time she doesn’t say thank you, and I say, I really give a heartfelt thank you to the person who gave her the gift from me to the benefactor in the hopes that that will model gratitude for my daughter while also satisfying the benefactors need for an acknowledgement and it seems to make the benefactor slightly uneasy in that they’re expecting it to come from my daughter and not for me, but am I doing something that’s helping my daughter here or am I totally messing it up?

Speaker 4:                         12:09                   Oh, you’re totally messing it up.

Jen:                                      12:15 [Laughs]

Dr. Tudge:                          12:15                   No; you’re doing absolutely the right thing.

Jen:                                      12:16                   Okay.

Dr. Tudge:                          12:17 Because I think – I wouldn’t say though all development is about imitating what wins elders and betters do because it’s clearly not. But nonetheless, if children never see appropriate behavior and actions be modeled in any way but reason that they got for doing those same things. So I think modeling is a helpful thing to do. I think it’s also helpful to explain to a child why you just said “thank you” and. But there’s a lot more of the comedian for start. I would typically try and avoid concentrating on, for example, if it’s a gift, I would avoid concentrating on the gift and we thank you for wonderful gift. I would say thank you know I’m Jen. That was just a wonderful thing that you did or wonderful. How nice of you to have got that, you know, trying to focus more on the person that has provided the gift rather than on the gift itself.

Dr. Tudge:                          13:16                   I also would, whenever my child does something nice for me, do the same thing to thank her for what she’s done. Again, focusing on her rather than the thing itself and ask her how she feels when I say that, does it make it feel good now and you can tell her that. Well, that’s how Aunty Jen will feel (I’d better use Aunty Sue in your case). That’s how Aunty Sue will feel if you say thank you to her because she’s done something really nice for you and it’ll make her feel good. So I think even before children are really going to understand that it’s worth starting. What is not worth doing is just simply forcing a child to say thank you before they have any idea what it means or why should be used. Particularly if you rarely do it yourself. That is say “thank you.”

Dr. Tudge:                          14:07                   I mean it because I think “do what I say not what I do.” never works.

Jen:                                      14:15                   Right. Yeah. It’s hard to admit this, but you and I come from a part of the world where manners are considered very important and so I do say please and thank you. And when I actually did a call for questions on this for the the episode on manners, as somebody responded to, you should take a look at your own practices and because if you’re not saying please and thank you, that’s probably why your child is not. And I’m thinking, but I really do. From the youngest age, when she’s handed something to me, I’d say thank you. If she, if she sets the table, I’ll say, thank you so much. I really appreciate that you saved me the time and that I didn’t have to do that, but I have gone that one step further and asked her how that makes her feel and I wonder if that’s sort of a missing link for me because right now she doesn’t regularly say please or thank you.

Dr. Tudge:                          15:02                   How old is she?

Jen:                                      15:03                   She’s almost four.

Dr. Tudge:                          15:08                   Well, there’s no particular age at which they start saying it. Eventually you mean you really don’t care too much at age four whether they do or not.

Jen:                                      15:15                   But other people do!

Dr. Tudge:                          15:18                   But you’re gonna care a lot if she said it meaningfully age seven and I think that’s what’s important. How do you get a child to do something that is meaningful for that child at a later age when they’re not doing it currently? And I think that trying to force the issue is not really the way to go. Saying it for them is probably good. Explaining to them why you think they ought to say it is good. Eventually they’ll do so. And then it’s a question to, you know, practice. It’s like any skill. I think gratitude is a skill that we all should be trying to work on ourselves and help to encourage in our children and as such it just takes practice, practice, practice, practice.

Jen:                                      16:02                   Yeah. I noticed that in your book actually, the statement that ethicists say that we have to engage in that practice of a virtue to really acquire the virtue and is that just day to day situations or should I be actively looking for situations where I can demonstrate gratitude?

Dr. Tudge:                          16:20                   I think it’s day to day thing. It’s what we do on a regular basis, so there are so many opportunities. People are helping us all the time; we can help others, we can help our children. We hope that they help us. There are so many opportunities to allow this to be a regular practice in our lives. We can of course go further. For example, there are some people that have studied the problem of entitlement. You know, this is obviously with older kids; adolescents is particularly those that come from well off families. They seem to think that just everything is theirs by do and then parents. Some parents go out of their way to put their kids into situations where they see other people have not had a good life or worse off than they are and you know, to try and find a way to give back to those people. That seems to be the sort of putting your child in a certain situation so that they were learning a certain sort of skill. But I don’t really think that’s necessary with regular gratitude, which, you know, there’s so many opportunities to say, to feel, to express, to encourage.

Jen:                                      17:35                   So I want to dig into it a little bit about the development that happens in children’s brains over this period because you said a minute ago that we wouldn’t necessarily expect a four year old to say thank you on a regular basis, but our goal is more for the six or seven year old to really express genuine gratitude. And I wonder, can you talk a little bit about some of the shifts that happen in a child’s brain over over that time? I’m thinking about things like theory of mind and an ability to focus on the future rather than seeing things just right now and those kinds of things.

Dr. Tudge:                          18:08                   I think that there are a couple of things that are really important about gratitude. I said earlier on that understanding the other person’s intention. Did this person intend to do something that was nice for me. Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t what I really wanted, but I can see to that person was actually trying to think about me and what I would like. They just messed up. I mean, that requires an awful lot of cognitive development before children can understand that level of understanding of somebody else’s way of thinking. A parent gets the child to give you something. It’s obvious that the kid himself didn’t want to, but his mother forced him to. Should you feel grateful to that child?

Jen:                                      18:54                   No, to the mother!

Dr. Tudge:                          18:56                   Well of course! So we can see that so obviously, but it takes a lot of thinking ability on the part of children to get that. One of my friends does research in which she talks about a particular sort of situation. For example, where a schoolmate puts the protagonist in a situation where that person really does not want to be. It’s supposedly done for nice reasons, but it’s in fact done for nasty reasons. You know that this kid is going to be really upset having to go on stage and give a short speech and yet you’ve put them in that position to sort of humiliate them. But it looks like you did a nice thing for them. They’ve gone on stage, they’re accepting some award. Is that something for which people should be grateful? The answer was clearly no. The intention is all wrong. So trying to expect that the child of even five, six, seven, eight, nine is going to be able to do that.

Dr. Tudge:                          20:00                   I think we’re expecting too much. So in order to truly understand and express gratitude, you have to wait. And while you’re waiting, things like, you know, saying thank you. And uh, when a child has done something really nice for you, just saying thank you in return, but saying, oh, that was such a good thing you did. I’m going to buy you a new book or know something nice that you know, the child would like. So in other words, you’re reciprocating for what your child has done. So you start these things off early before the child can understand and at that point you can expect that the child is going to behave in exactly the same way or think the same way. What you’re doing is the building blocks that with luck and a bit of persistence on your part will lead in the future to that child being genuinely a grateful person. And I think that’s what we want. It’s always future oriented.

Jen:                                      21:01                   Yeah. And I think that I certainly didn’t realize that it can be difficult for parents to realize just the processes that go on and are changing in a child’s brain over this period are really incredible. And when we talk about understanding what other people are thinking, for example, we think “of course people understand what other people are thinking,” but children don’t.

Dr. Tudge:                          21:24                   No yet. It’s so hard for them. They think that everyone is seeing the world from their point of view. Their own point of view.

Jen:                                      21:32                   And I love the theory of mind tests on this. And so listeners can actually run this test themselves on their children if they want to. If you take a packet of cookies out of the cookie jar and whenever your partner or another person is out of the room and you say, let’s hide the cookies in the fridge, and then you put the cookies in the fridge and you say, okay, when daddy or whoever the other person is comes back into the room, where are they going to look for the cookies? If the child understands that Daddy has these thoughts, they will say that daddy’s going to look in the cookie jar because daddy didn’t see us putting them in the fridge. But if the child is not there yet, then they will assume that Daddy knows the cookies are in the fridge because the child saw the cookies being put in the fridge and they just – until they get to that point, they just cannot make the link that somebody else has different thoughts from them.

Dr. Tudge:                          22:22                   That’s exactly right. And so that’s an easy thing you would think. Of course he’s not going to know they’re in the fridge, stupid child. And you think about how much harder it is to work out what it is that someone is intending to do by giving you this thing. That’s a much more complicated than good workout. So theory of mind is just to start this. I think people’s intentions, that takes a long time to develop.

Jen:                                      22:53                   Yeah. Yep. And also thinking, being able to say thank you right now is one skill, but being able to put that in the back of your mind and think, when I have the opportunity, I’m going to repay this act. I mean my child is focused on what’s happening right now. And even 10 minutes from now has a really long time from now. So the idea of storing something away, that piece of information, when you need it, seems mind boggling at this point.

Dr. Tudge:                          23:21                   Right? So then you know, what we can do is help with that too. For example, your child’s best friend has given her a really nice gift for her birthday and now you’re going with her to that friend’s house who birthday and you know, oh, remember what she gave you? Wasn’t it so nice? She was so thoughtful. What sort of things does she like, you know, what more can we do that we nice for her as a way of saying thank you to her for that lovely gift that she gave, you know, so again, the child is not going to do it just off the bat. It takes. A lot of time and encouragement on parents’ part to get children to think these sorts of ways to think, oh yeah, that was really nice. I would like to do something

Dr. Tudge:                          24:08                   And something that she would like and not like. Yeah. Because my daughter would just give everybody stickers for their birthday.

Dr. Tudge:                          24:14                   Yes, yes, yes, of course. Of course.

Jen:                                      24:17 Because she loves stickers. It doesn’t. Everybody love stickers.

Dr. Tudge:                          24:21                   Yeah. I said there were several types of gratitude and verbal gratitude saying thank you is the lowest level? The next level up for that we call concrete gratitude and that’s when a child has got the idea that reciprocity is good. You want to give something back, but what you want to give back is the thing that you like. So you know, what we’ve done in some of our research is to ask children what their greatest wish is and then what would they do for the person that granted that wish. Well, the answer to the second question really, really interesting from the kid that says, obviously I’d say thank you to the kid that says I give them all the sweets in the world or I want to be an NBA star. I’ll give them tickets to come and see every one of my games. I mean, it’s so egocentric, right! But that’s like your child wanting to give stickers because that’s what she likes at a certain age as great.

Dr. Tudge:                          25:21                   You know, if, if your child do something nice for her and she wants to get me a favorite teddy bear, I really should feel incredibly honored that she’s willing to give up some things. So nice. Do American kids have teddy bears?

Jen:                                      25:35                   They do.

Dr. Tudge:                          25:35                   Okay. Then that, you know, that is really nice and I should feel honored and that is expressing wonderful gratitude. on the other hand, if a 14 year old, does that sort of look at that kid a bit askance. It has to develop. What we want is for children to start thinking about not only wanting to do something for the benefactor, but what can I do that the benefactor would really need or like or appreciate in some way,

Jen:                                      26:04                   Yeah. And so I was thinking when I read that in your book about thinking about what other people think and how other people feel. I try to, when we’re reading stories or books, we talk about what other people might be thinking, what other characters might perceive because we’d been reading one at the moment about winning a race and she always empathize with a character who wants to win the race because she always wants to win, and so we talk about what the other characters feel like. The pandas who stopped to help the lions car because of the lions car broke down. How would the pandas feel if the lions then went ahead and won the race? So it does that kind of thing bolster a child’s ability to take another person’s perspective, or are there other things that I could be doing that would be more.

Dr. Tudge:                          26:46                   I think that’s really great. That notion of particularly the person does not doing so well. It’s easy to feel good about the person that’s won; the person that’s got a lot of stuff. I think it’s really helpful to try to encourage empathy where those who don’t have so much and I think in a way that’s what the parents to try and take the kids who got a lot to see where we’re volunteer with people that don’t have so much to try and build up a sense of empathy with other people. I think that’s an important component of developing gratitude because if you don’t have that sense for other people and just see things from your own point of view just in a very egocentric way and don’t think about others, then it’s unlikely you’re gonna develop much in the way of gratitude.

Jen:                                      27:38                   Okay. So in this show we always try and take a bit of an anthropological perspective as well and we ask are we the only people in the world dealing with this issue or is this a cross-cultural thing? And I think that you have looked at gratitude and the way it develops across cultures and I’m especially curious as to whether you see different experiences of gratitude in cultures where there’s less perhaps rampant materialism than there is in our adopted country.

Dr. Tudge:                          28:07                   Yes, yes. And it was particularly unfortunate – I think there’s a tendency in american psychology and human development. Maybe it’s a general phenomenon, but so much research goes on in America. So much research goes on with American families and children, many of whom are white and we don’t look at the full range of diversity in the United States and we look even less people outside. and yet when we write up our findings, we sort of act as though; write as though what we’ve found is relevant around the entire world. So we’ll talk about, you know, adolescents are grateful for this five year olds that forgetting entirely that our sample was primarily white middle class kids from one particular area than had to states and we’re talking generically is though it’s relevant to the entire world. And what we found looking at the development of gratitude in different cultures is that nothing could be further from the truth that the United States – it’s not better, it’s not worse.

Dr. Tudge:                          29:21                   It’s different from other countries and how other countries develop and how children in other countries in adolescents and other countries develop. It’s just not the same as the way they develop here.

Jen:                                      29:33                   How is it different?

Dr. Tudge:                          29:35                   Well, for example, in terms of the type of gratitude that we think is closest to real gratitude, what we call connective gratitude and our samples of children from just one area of North Carolina about, just over a third of the kids ages seven to 14 expressed connective gratitude, right? It’s not bad. It turns out that only in a Brazilian sample was it about the same percentage in China, seventy percent of the same age range expressed connective gratItude in Russia it’s I think 58 or 60 percent and Turkey and career also very high. In other words, our notions of how gratitude can be encouraged and how grateful our kids are seems to be quite different from what is in other countries and obviously that has something to do with the ways in which people think about connecting with others.

Dr. Tudge:                          30:41                   I mean America is known as a very individualistic country and in some ways I think that’s true. You know, we tend to think of Americans as always on the look out for number one and how important it is to be first and top and so on. I think that ignores the fact that Americans like every other country around the world want their kids to relate to other children as well, so it’s not like we’re only individualistic and in other societies they are only thinking about the group? I think it’s much more complex than that, but that being said, it’s interesting to see that in countries that have been traditionally much more interested in focusing on the group rather than on individuals developed children who are more likely far more likely twice as likely as those in America to express the gratitude that takes other people into account and so I think it really does vary.

Jen:                                      31:41                   Yeah. Yeah. A lot of it I think speaks to the way parents socialize their children to be successful in their society and along with that, I think we have to assess what do we want our society to be like? Are we happy with this very individualistic approach or are there elements of a more collectively oriented society that could actually benefit us if we chose to go in that direction?

Dr. Tudge:                          32:08                   Right, and I think many of us do. I talked a little bit about the lack of attention to diversity. If you look at African American families, Hispanic families, Asian families within the United States compared to many middle class white families, they do tend to focus more on the collective, the group; rather than just individual factors. So it’s not like I want to be down on middle class whites; I mean, I am one myself, but it’s not that even middle class white folk are only interested in, in themselves as individuals. It’s just to what extent that we’re willing to put the group ahead of group interests ahead of our own interests and I think the encouragement of children to think about others and what it is that they need, what it is that they’ve done for us can only help. In fact, I’m tempted to think that we can do something to cut down on materialism by trying to focus kids’ attention away from the gifts that they’re given and focus more on the people that had been nice enough to get those things to us.

Dr. Tudge:                          33:25                   So now when we tell kids, “Oh, say thank you to Aunty Sue for the nice gift,” we’re forcing the attention on the gift itself. Saying, oh, wasn’t that nice of Aunty Sue? She spent so much time looking for a present that’s just right for you. You know, let’s think about the person rather than the gift and try and help reduce materialism that way because I think there, there’s just no point trying to say to kids, you know, don’t want stuff. They’re bombarded with adverts the entire day and night telling them buy, buy, buy; want, want, want. So just saying to kids, you know, don’t want, don’t buy is not going to do the trick. So what can we do? I think one of the things we can try and do is just be more attentive to the people around us, what it is that they’re doing for us and they little less attentive on the nice stuff that they give us.

Jen:                                      34:20                   Yeah. On a sIightly unrelated aside, I was just reminded that my daughter is getting quite adept at spotting commercials and she likes to pick out what she thinks they’re trying to sell us. If there’s a picture of a big house in the background of somebody talking about something else, she’s inclined to think that they’re trying to sell us the house.

Dr. Tudge:                          34:40                   You’ve already started product spotting placement design on the part… That’s really good to do.

Jen:                                      34:48                   So sticking with that theme of individualism, I want to talk about why gratitude is important beyond the social functioning issue because I think there has been some research that’s linked it to academic outcomes and life satisfaction. And I wanted to dig into that with you because I was wondering, are they just correlations? In which case maybe there’s no evidence that being grateful causes those good life outcomes, but perhaps good life outcomes inspire people to be grateful. How do we sort of tease that out?

Dr. Tudge:                          35:20                   We don’t. We actually try and ignore that as much as possible for a couple of reasons. One is I think it’s the wrong question to ask, actually. I think of gratitude as a character virtue or a moral virtue in much the same way I think of honesty or bravery. These are all things I think we should be trying to encourage in ourselves and our children. We don’t ask “ow do you score on a test at wellbeing?” What? I mean, who cares? If you’re a brave person, you’re a brave person and that’s something that’s a part of who you are as an individual. That’s the sort of person you should be. If you’re an honest person – don’t we want our kids to be honest? Of course we do. We want them to be honest as virtuous individuals irrespective of whether they score higher or lower on a test of wellbeing. I personally, I think it’s hard to be honest all the time. I think it’s hard to be brave all the time. I think it’s hard to be grateful at the time and some in some senses, gratitude can be a burden. You’re reminded that so and so did something really nice and you’ve got to be on the lookout for a way in which you can reciprocate. That’s the uneasy thing.

Jen:                                      36:40                   Darn it! That takes mental energy!

Dr. Tudge:                          36:41                   Yeah, it does. So maybe you don’t end up scoring so high on some measure of happiness or subjective wellbeing or whatever. I don’t think it really matters. As far as the research is concerned. What has been done is to show the people who are more appreciative of life, a happier

Jen:                                      37:06                   Sort of a “well, duh…”.

Dr. Tudge:                          37:08 Exactly. Yeah. I mean that doesn’t altogether surprise me, does it?

Jen:                                      37:14                   I bet somebody got a big grant to study that.

Dr. Tudge:                          37:17                   Yeah. Of course, what you can do is longitudinal work. So you follow kids over time and you track how happy or how high they score in well being and then try and encourage them to be more grateful and see whether that changes the level of wellbeing. And I think that there’s been some good research that has shown that yes, that does happen. How much the wellbeing changes is not great, but it’s significant, and every little bit helps. I’m not knocking it. I just don’t think that what these people are looking at is actually gratitude. But they’re looking at appreciation. They’re not interested and whether people ever reciprocate, they’re not even interested in whether people are thinking about another person. They can be thinking about their own health. They can be thinking about the sunset, the leaves turning nice colors; nothing to do with what I’m calling gratitude. So yeah, I think you can get a movement on a scale that shows that if you… And it’s not surprising if you’re encouraged to think more on a daily basis about those things that make you feel good, make you feel happy, like the fact that you are healthy, like the fact that you live in a nice house, like the fact that your kids aren’t using drugs like the, that it stopped raining, all sorts of things. The more you do that, obviously the better it’s going to be.

Dr. Tudge:                          38:43                   I just don’t think that we should call everything gratitude. And my fear is that that’s what’s happened. A whole bunch of things that are some way connected. I’ve been lumped together and put her under this label called gratitude and we no longer know really what gratitude is. I’m saying that’s find out what gratitude is. I think there are some key components and then that’s try and see how we can encourage that in our children. I think if we can encourage children to think about others, to think about what they can do in return to build connections or strengthen connections between them and other people, that’s what’s going to help. And if it has some effect on their subjective wellbeing as well, great. But that wouldn’t be my end goal. My end goal would be I would like to develop children who had the sort of character that I can admire.

Jen:                                      39:49 Hmmm…that’s a worthy goal.

Dr. Tudge:                          39:54                   Well, I admire my daughter who’s now 30 years old.

Jen:                                      39:59                   Okay, good! Because I goes to the final question that I wanted to ask you, which was actually conveniently also the final chapter in your book, so we’re tying up some ends here, but that chapter is about gratitude in education and specifically related to teachers and I thought it was a particularly insightful chapter because it really aligns a lot with what I’ve been reading about how relationships are so important in learning and we think about the material being learned as the most important thing when actually it turns out that having a warm and even loving relationship with a teacher is incredibly important. And in that chapter, Dr. Kerry howells of the University of Tasmania writes that instead of approaching an interaction perhaps with another teacher, with a student thinking, how can I get what I want from this person? The teachers could instead shift their intention first towards thinking about what they can give to that person.

Dr. Tudge:                          40:50                   And I love this because I think parents can also take that idea and apply that shift to their relationship with their children. Instead of thinking, how do I get my child to do what I want them to do, which I as a parent spend a decent amount of time thinking about, we might ask what does my child need right now and how can I help provide this? And so you answered my first question, which is, do you have children? And my second question is, have you attempted something like this? And more broadly, do you think this kind of mindset shift would help us to improve our relationships with our children?

Dr. Tudge:                          41:22                   Yeah, I definitely would. Did I do that? No, I definitely did not.

Jen:                                      41:28 Hindsight’s 20/20, huh?

Dr. Tudge:                          41:31                   Yeah, it really is. Raising children is not an easy job. It’s so much more challenging than being a university professor, I will tell you that. No. If I could do over again, I’d do it differently. I don’t have grandchildren yet. Rosanne, I don’t want any just yet. If I had some, you know, maybe that’s why it’s often the grandparent-grandchild relationship that is better because grandparents have a second chance to do some of the things that they wish they’d done and hadn’t done, with their own kids, but I think you’re absolutely right. I think Kerry was right, that one of the greatest things that teachers can do is try and build relationships, not just with them selves as teachers and their children, but among the children themselves and I think trying to do the opposite of say thank you, say thank you, say thank you. But get children in a classroom to think about it. What is the other people are done for them, You know, to reflect on the relationships among the children themselves and in so doing, I think strengthening the relationship between the children and the teachers. I think we all know that it’s the relationship-building that is so important to learning will come much more as result of a good relationship. If you have a good relationship with the teacher, you’re willing to go so much further to learn the material. Then if she’s trying to force you to learn it. I just was reminded of a having to learn French, which is funny. I speak Portuguese very well. I used to speak Russian reasonably well, so you might think I’m really good at languages, what I’m not, and I was hopeless at a Latin and French. The two languages which I had to learn at school. My dad forced me to take private lessons and this is really off the topic. Sorry.

Dr. Tudge:                          43:32                   But there were two people that he interviewed. One of them was a retired teacher of French and thank goodness she lived a long way out of town and it would have been difficult for me to get the so against his better judgment he hired this young woman; she was just finishing her degree at Oxford, you know, I was 15 at the time. Oh my goodness. I loved that woman, and I learned French really quickly. But you think about the teachers that you’ve had at school, the ones that you’ve really liked and established a relationship with, they’re the ones that you learn stuff from. So relationships will lead you to where, you know, as teachers, we want kids to go. We don’t just want people to have a nice relationship. We want them to learn the material, but my goodness, they’ll do better if they have developed a good relationship with you.

Jen:                                      44:33 Awesome. On that note, I want to offer my sincere thanks for your time and if I can ever be of any service to you, I do hope you’ll reach out and let me know. And I will of course look out for opportunities where I may be of service to you and we’ll bring those to your attention, should I find any.

Dr. Tudge:                          44:51                   Thanks Jen. Thank you very much for reaching out to me and I’ve enjoyed talking with you and reflecting on some of these things. It’s been good.

Jen:                                      45:02 Awesome. Thanks so much. And so for listeners, Jon’s book, developing gratitude in children and adolescents can be found in bookstores or on amazon if you must, and references for the show along with a link to a booklet that Jon has produced to help parents encouraged connective gratitude in their children can be found at


About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (, which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at

She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at

And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at


  1. Megan on August 12, 2018 at 5:11 PM

    Very interesting podcast, thought-provoking as usual.
    So is society mis-using the word ‘gratitude’ left and right? I never think of ‘gratitude’ as so tied to the exchange of transactional social currency, that’s not really how I define it, or I think how most people define it. I guess my working definition of gratitude is recognizing that someone did a thing for me, recognizing that they didn’t have to do it, and feeling warmly towards them because they did it. I don’t think reciprocation (if possible) is all that important to the feeling I describe as gratitude, or rather I don’t feel that the definition of ‘gratitude’ includes the ongoing reciprocal relationship I hope the feelings foster.
    For example, being grateful for parents’ sacrifices cannot really be reciprocated, unless our definition of familial gratitude is by definition concerned about what the children will do for us in the future. I want my child to feel lucky for the privileges our family is able to provide him, and I want him to feel like helping me set the table out a sense of feeling like an integral part of a functioning household and a fondness for me. But I don’t really want my kiddo to be thinking of reciprocation when I do something nice for him or him for me. Scaffolding and maintaining transactional relationships to bank social currency and interpersonal trust is a good skill I hope my son has, but it seems superficial (or an extrinsic reward motivation) to define gratitude by it. Where’s the warm fuzzy then, if it’s all focused on transactions?

    • Jen Lumanlan on August 12, 2018 at 11:15 PM

      Thanks so much for these thoughts, Megan. This issue is important enough that I reached out to Dr. Tudge to request his response, which I will paste below. Hope it helps!

      Thanks so much for your interesting and very thoughtful comment. No, I don’t think that society is misusing the word at all. Society isn’t really bothered about definitions and there’s no reason why it should be. So, for society, the terms “appreciation”, “thankfulness”, and “gratitude” are almost certainly used interchangeably. And that’s perfectly fine. There’s always some degree of ambiguity in the words we use, but two people talking to one another typically end up understanding pretty well what each of them meant, and if there are misunderstandings they (sometimes) get cleared up in the course of conversation.

      Science and society are different, however, and even social scientists have to be clearer (or should be clearer) in the meanings that ascribe to words than we expect society to be. And I think that appreciation and gratitude are quite different. To some extent society agrees with me, and I suspect that you might as well. Just imagine that you’re in a position in which someone does something really nice for you, unbidden and intentional. Yes, you feel great about that and about the person. So far so good. But then you have a chance to help that person when he or she really needs help. You do nothing. What are you? Are you grateful or ungrateful? If, as a matter of course, you typically fail to help others who have helped you (assuming that they need help and you have the opportunity to provide that help), no matter how warm and fuzzy you feel at the time that you were helped, I’m sorry but I (and I suspect most of society) would tar you with the brush of ingratitude.

      That’s why I think that reciprocity is important. The BIG issue, though, is the reasoning and feeling behind the reciprocity. Gratitude, as I define it (and as I think it should be defined) has nothing to do with a “tit-for-tat” reciprocity (you did something for me; OK, now I’ll have to do something for you). It has nothing to do with a contract that’s struck and now has to be fulfilled. Gratitude, as a virtuous aspect of one’s character, has developed when you not only feel good about what others have done for you but genuinely desire to reciprocate…should an opportunity become available. It may never become available, and then there’s nothing you can do for that person (although you might think about paying it forward as a next best thing). Warm feelings about what was done and about the other person are, of course, great…but gratitude requires of us more than warm feelings.

      You’re absolutely right that you shouldn’t want your son to think of reciprocity as something he has to do because you were nice for him. But the warm and loving relationship you have should develop in such a way that you both WANT (desire) to do things for each other when opportunities arise. That sort of desire, among people who are genuinely grateful, extends beyond the family circle to all those others who do good things for us. No, there’s no contract to be fulfilled…what we want is for that desire to be there. And if it is, your son will have developed into the sort of person who doesn’t just help those who have helped him; he’s also likely to go out of his way to help others…thereby starting new potential cycles of gratitude. He won’t have helped BECAUSE he wants something in return, but because the thinking and concern for others is now part of his character.

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