What Parents and Children Say When Talking about Children's Gratitude: A Thematic Analysis. Academic Article uri icon


  • Parent-child conversations are a widely recognized socializing mechanism, linked to children's developing moral agency, empathy, and emotional competence. Similarly, parent-child conversations about gratitude have been linked to growth in children's gratitude. However, the messages that parents and children exchange in conversations about children's gratitude have yet to be investigated in depth. In the current study, we investigate the types of events that parents discuss with their children during times when they saw displays of children's gratitude and events when the children missed the opportunity to display gratitude, along with the messages that parents and children share during these conversations. The study involved a thematic analysis of the gratitude conversations of 43 parent-child dyads (88% mothers, 77% European American, 51% boys, child Mage=10.62, SD=1.15) living in the United States. Gratitude and missed opportunity events primarily involved situations in which the child had the opportunity to attend an event or to receive a material gift, food, or assistance. Three themes characterized parent and child messages. First, parents suggested that being happy was a sign of being grateful, a way to make others happy, and the goal of benefactors' behavior. Second, parents suggested that children should focus on what they receive rather than on what they did not receive. Finally, children conveyed that they could not always be grateful, but that in several cases they were able to both feel and display their excitement and gratitude. In particular, children reported feeling grateful when they received something they thought was special or enjoyable, unique or unexpected, that they knew would make their parent happy or that they felt lucky to have since others did not have it. Together these findings suggest the importance of future research investigating how children and parents coordinate and prioritize the various elements of gratitude moments in deciding how to be grateful and to socialize children's gratitude.

published proceedings

  • J Child Fam Stud

author list (cited authors)

  • Midgette, A. J., Coffman, J. L., & Hussong, A. M.

complete list of authors

  • Midgette, Allegra J||Coffman, Jennifer L||Hussong, Andrea M

publication date

  • January 2022