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148: Why isn’t my child grateful with Dr. Jonathan Tudge (RE-RELEASE)
21st November 2021 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:45:59

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“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.

Transcripts

Jen:

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:

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:

Welcome Jen. Thanks.

Jen:

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

Dr. Tudge:

Yeah. It’s not terribly easy.

Jen:

No, it’s not.

Dr. Tudge:

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.

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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.

ge: [:

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.

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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.

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

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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.

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

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?

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Jen: [12:15] [Laughs]

ge: [:

Jen: [12:16] Okay.

ge: [:

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.”

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

Jen: [15:03] She’s almost four.

ge: [:

Jen: [15:15] But other people do!

ge: [:

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?

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

Jen: [18:54] No, to the mother!

ge: [:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

ge: [:

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

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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.

ge: [:

Jen: [25:35] They do.

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

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.

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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.

ge: [:

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?

ge: [:

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.

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

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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.

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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

[:

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

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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.

ge: [:

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

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

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

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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.

ge: [:

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.

ge: [:

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 yourparentingmojo.com/gratitude

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