Improving the Attitudes of Ungrateful Children

young girl with crossed arms and attitude
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Almost every parent has experienced a few cringe-worthy moments where a child’s ungrateful attitude becomes evident. Whether your child says, “Is that all I’m getting for my birthday?” after opening a pile of presents, or you hear, “I never get to do anything fun” as you’re driving home from a fun-filled day at the park, the lack of gratitude can be frustrating.

While it’s normal for all kids to have moments where their sense of entitlement becomes evident, if you are like most parents you don't want your child's ungrateful attitude to become permanent. But instilling a grateful heart is about more than teaching your child to say "yes please" and "thank you."

Being grateful comes from within and is more of a mindset than an action.

If your child is ungrateful more often than you’d like, the good news is, there are things you can do. Here are some discipline strategies that can help your child learn to be a bit more thankful.

Point out an Ungrateful Attitude

When you hear your child say or do something that shows an ungrateful attitude, point it out. Be specific without being insulting. For instance, avoid saying something like, “Stop being a brat.” Instead, say something like, “Complaining about not getting more presents is ungrateful. Your friends and family were kind enough to buy you a gift when they didn’t have to buy you anything.” 

Consistently pointing out incidents that portray an ungrateful attitude will help your child see what behavior constitutes entitlement. Just make sure your comments are aimed at raising awareness, not shaming your child.

You also can head off ungrateful behavior by talking to your child before a birthday party or holiday where gifts are given. Discuss the fact that gifts cost money and that people often spend a lot of time thinking about what to buy. Remind them that the gift giver is usually excited to see them open the gift. So, responding with an ungrateful attitude could be really hurtful. Getting them to see the money and effort someone else puts into a gift helps them appreciate it a little more. And, it is more likely they will respond with a more grateful heart.

Teach Empathy

Kids need help in understanding how their behavior affects other people. You can do that by teaching your child empathy. Talk to them about how their words or behaviors impact others. Say things like, "When you say you never get to do anything fun, it hurts my feelings. I try to make sure we do plenty of fun things together, like go to the park or play games."

You also can use situations in books and movies to get them to consider how others might be feeling. For instance, when you are reading books or watching TV together, pause and ask how certain characters might feel. Ask questions like, "When that boy said those mean things, how do you think his brother felt?" Help your child identify and label feeling words. 

Delay Gratification

Showering your child with endless material items and countless indulgences will spoil her. Kids cannot be grateful for what they have unless they’re given an opportunity to delay gratification. For instance, it is OK to say no when your kids ask for a new toy or an expensive gadget. Instead, tell them they need to wait until their birthday. Or, you could teach them how to save up their allowance for something they want.

Another way to delay gratification is to link privileges, like screen time and playdates, to good behavior. However, never confuse a bribe with a reward. Bribing your child will only fuel an ungrateful attitude. Saying, "Here's a balloon, now be good," is a bribe. A reward, on the other hand, is about saying, "You were really well behaved today. I am really proud of you. You earned a balloon." 

You also may want to implement a reward system. This type of plan helps children feel good about their accomplishments. They also learn to appreciate their privileges much more when they have actually earned them.

Foster Gratitude

There are many steps you can take to foster gratitude in children. One of the most important steps is to be a good role model of a grateful attitude. Talk regularly about all the things you have to be grateful for each day.

Express gratitude for things that can easily be taken for granted, like spending time together, seeing a beautiful sunset, or finding a great parking spot.

Also, strive to establish family habits that foster gratitude. Create a gratitude jar where everyone writes down one thing they're grateful for every day. Then, on a specific date, like New Year's, read through all the slips of paper.

You also can make it a habit to talk about gratitude each day at bedtime or around the dinner table. Ask everyone, "What was the best part of your day today?" Then, discuss why you are grateful for the good things in your day. 

Focus on Helping Others

Make kindness a family habit. Take your children with you when you help an elderly neighbor or give them an opportunity to help you make a meal for someone who needs a helping hand. 

Get your child involved in volunteer work too. Teach your kids that they are never too young to help other people. Helping others in need will decrease your child's self-centered outlook. It also will help foster compassion, which decreases the likelihood that your child will be ungrateful.

Talk about being kind often. Make it a daily habit to ask, "What is something kind you did for someone today?" or, "How did you help make the world better today?" When kids perform acts of kindness, they'll be more likely to focus on what they can give, rather than what they think they deserve. 

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that it's normal for kids to be a bit egocentric at times. It's also normal to at times behave as the world revolves around them. So, don't get discouraged. But, over time, an ungrateful attitude should be getting better, not worse. When you see your child act entitled, take a step back and think about what steps you can take to foster a more grateful spirit.

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