Teaching Gratitude Before the ABC’s – How a Gratitude Culture is Created and Influenced in Early Development

I’ve been talking to people about the true intelligence of children for many years. As a child, growing up in a conservative and old-fashioned household repeatedly left me with the impression that kids’ opinions didn’t matter. That we weren’t intelligent enough to make good choices, or have an impact on anything of real value. I believe this old idea was ingrained into many generations and many cultures before us. I think we’re learning, and we have come a long way since children were primarily treated as workers. But it’s still a somewhat normal thing for people to believe that children don’t have much of a voice in this world, due to a lack of logic, and reason, which are extremely important survival skills in today’s world.

But I understood very early that I had good ideas, and made good choices, and had the ability to use logic and reason, but that no one would simply listen. They wouldn’t listen to me, they wouldn’t listen to other children, and so many times I wished they’d realize that we were often coming up with creative ways to solve problems, just in a more rudimentary way than adult issues are solved.

Because of that experience, as I grew into a young adult, I attempted to show any kids I was around that I was willing to listen. I adore kids, and always wanted a large family. I spent plenty of time doing odd jobs of baby-sitting and caregiving. Kids seemed to be drawn to me, and I’m fully convinced that it was this one simple act that was the driving force behind that. Kids want to be heard, so when they find a grown-up who will listen, they will delve no holds barred into all their opinions. And over the years I learned that kids TRULY are astoundingly more intelligent than people as a whole give them credit for. That knowledge was one of the driving forces behind my unique way of educating my kids as babies.


From the moment of their births, I spoke to them frequently in a conversational form. I would answer their babble and noises as though they had said some insightful thought. When they would point at objects, I would confirm what that object was, and how interesting it was that they had observed such a great thing. I empowered them to engage in adult conversation in a way that I’ve only seen a few people in life do. They were not a possession or a thing that I created for my own pleasure, but to me, they were part of my team. A team that would last a lifetime, and I wanted them to know and experience an entire lifetime of inclusion. I never wanted them to feel unheard, or left out like I did as a child.


As a result, I am now dealing with some incredibly outspoken children, and a vast amount of insight into how they tick. How they learn. How they encompass and soak in everything around them, even if it appears they aren’t paying attention. This method of communication in our household isn’t always going to be positive. With outspoken children who have been given an opportunity to have an opinion on the operations of life, they eventually feel entitled to their opinions all the time, and with all people. This can be a fine line to walk if you’re not careful, because not all of society believes kids are able to have opinions on certain things, so they’re not going to be receptive when a child has a strong and differing opinion from another adult. So with this freedom, we are constantly reminded of the lessons that must also be taught to anyone expressing an opinion to someone else – which is to always be respectful.(extra line of space here which I couldn’t fix)What we’ve learned about how the brain works during development is incredible. We know that it doesn’t stop growing until our early 20’s. And we know that one of the last things to develop in the brain is the ability to understand long-term consequences of our actions. And it’s our job as parents to protect them from those potential consequences, while at the same time allowing them to explore, learn, find themselves and express their opinions. When kids know you’re listening without judgment, they are more open, insightful, and quite obviously intelligent. But often kids feel excluded, and fear being judged.

What has become abundantly clear from my experiences, is that the earlier you teach them the fundamentals of gratitude, the more comfortable they feel expressing their real thoughts and opinions candidly. When they understand the basic concepts of being grateful for actions and experiences, they develop a better understanding of people as a whole, including understanding themselves. We ingrain politeness into our children naturally, and instilling a habit of gratitude is equally important.

There’s a mantra I’ve heard that to me, which is greatly intertwined with having gratitude. It says that “Instead of saying sorry, you should say thank you”. The premise is that when you say thank you instead of sorry, the person feels the sincerity in your knowledge of how your actions impacted them. So if you’re late, instead of saying “sorry I’m late” you can say “Thank you for waiting for me”.  Or Say “Thank you for spending time with me” rather than “Sorry for taking up all your time” This shows them that you recognize and value their contribution and their feelings. And that you’re grateful to them for the action they took despite this action. That isn’t to say that apologies don’t have their place when sincere as well, just that changing the words we use when apologizing to include gratitude, can make a major difference in showing the person that your apology is truly meaningful.

With our toddlers we implemented this concept into our daily interactions. I tried to thank them for their contributions whenever possible. I apologized to them when needed, or when they didn’t understand why something needed to be done. I let them feel heard, and showed them gratitude for being a part of my team. And each time I get a hug and a thank you from my kids for some small act, I smile knowing that a big part of creating that culture in them was a result of using gratitude-based communications and vocabulary from the beginning.