Tactical Gratitude

Tips for Inspiring Thankfulness in Kids

We’re grateful for you.

Seriously. Dr. B, Dean Sue, and I get to work every day thinking about how to help kids see themselves, believe in themselves, and treat themselves better. 

We’ve spent our lives and careers thinking about how to help kids stand on their own two feet so that they can lift up others. To empower parents and kids while nerding out about child development is a privilege. 

And it wouldn’t be possible without you all: the Legends community. Thanks for being here and taking the first step to build a more confident kid. 

In case you can’t tell, in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, this newsletter is about gratitude: 

And as we often say, the best way to teach something is to model it, so we figured we better practice what we preach! 

🙏 Thank you for reading. 

Fish Stark
Head of Program & Curriculum

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When it comes to teaching kids gratitude, we often get it really, really wrong. 

“You should be more grateful!” 

“People aren’t going to want to do nice things for you if you aren’t grateful.” 

It’s true that gratitude can create a virtuous cycle, and there’s nothing wrong with encouraging good manners. 

But this kind of talk risks causing avoidance by associating gratitude with shame, or training kids to see gratitude as a means to an end. Research shows we get the benefits of gratitude from feeling genuinely appreciative of what others do for us, not by going through the motions of thankfulness. 

Here’s what to do:

  1. Focus on the benefits of gratitude - to the giver and receiver.

  2. Give choices about how to demonstrate gratitude. 

  3. Practice noticing who does the work we take for granted. 

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In one study among adolescents, gratitude was found to be more strongly correlated with life satisfaction than peer or parental relations, academic achievement, or even social acceptance, leading researchers to suggest gratitude interventions for unhappy teenagers. 

In kids as young as five, research has found positive correlations between happiness and domain-specific gratitude for things like activities, people, objects, basic needs, and nature (with gratitude for other people especially predictive of children’s happiness). As kids age, they move from these types of “concrete” expressions of gratitude, to more “connective” ones, recognizing the meaningful things they might do for others.

Gratitude isn’t just good manners, it’s a research-backed pathway to increasing our kids’ happiness that supports positive growth in many important facets of their development. As adults, it’s crucial that we lead by example in modeling gratitude, and actively help the kids in our lives to hone this life-enhancing skill.

During the last five years as the Dean of Students at Duke, I had the good fortune of becoming a certified Koru mindfulness meditation teacher and actually teaching Koru to a number of students. I still start many of my classes with a Koru meditation.

The developers of the Koru model incorporated gratitude in the daily teaching of the practice of mindfulness. It asks that students deliberately and intentionally list three things for which they are grateful each day during the four-week Koru class. As the instructor, I had the opportunity to review these lists and was so uplifted by the gratitudes shared by the students. 

Each of us and our children have the opportunity to learn and practice mindfulness. But even if we choose not to, we can still make a list each day of things we’re grateful for. This is a life-long skill (along with confidence) that we can grow, enabling all of us to better deal with and manage the stresses of life and to learn the power of gratitude.


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