Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character
by Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono
Templeton Press, 2014
What if adults could influence children today to become “Generation G” (“Generation Grateful”)? Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono coined this term (page 228) to describe the goal of shaping the character of children to work together for a better future. They believe that gratitude is “a quality that can be learned and strengthened with practice” (8). Gratitude leads people to treat others with generosity at home, school, in their congregation, and local community. The authors’ vision of nurturing gratitude extends from families to society to the world (219-230).
Froh and Bono are psychology professors at Hofstra University and California State University, Dominguez Hills, respectively. Their scholarly expertise is complemented by experience in counseling young people as well as in raising their own children. Froh and Bono provide thirty-two strategies to encourage children to develop gratitude. These strategies range from ideas such as, “Focus children on why good things happen to them and on the people responsible for making good things happen” (16) to philosophical perspectives such as, “Set reasonable limits on materialism. Offset commercial activity with experiential pursuits” (144). The concluding strategy sums up the book’s overarching goal: “Create supportive environments where youth and their highest aspirations are valued and nurtured” (211). The authors discuss four strategies in each of the eight main chapters, balancing current research and practical examples.
Ideally, parents will prioritize a spirit of gratefulness in their home to guide children from the earliest years. But if gratitude has not yet emerged in the forefront of your household dialogue, fear not! This book is full of ideas to intentionally develop gratitude. Based on Froh and Bono’s four-year longitudinal studies on gratitude development in teens, the authors assert that even a student in the late teen years who operates from a sense of entitlement is not “a lost cause” (9-10). The link between gratitude and generosity has been confirmed by a study that Froh and a colleague conducted with teens who kept a daily gratitude journal for two weeks (173). Congregations are well positioned to support families in the shared goal of nurturing grateful children and youth within the community of faith.
A central concept of Making Grateful Kids is that people joyfully and generously give of themselves when acting from their character strengths. The authors lift up the VIA Youth Survey, a resource that kids, ages ten to seventeen, can use to find their top strengths (pages 53-56). Parents of preschool or early elementary children may talk with their children to discover their areas of affinity (creativity, curiosity, kindness, hope, or humor). Pursuing service opportunities may prove especially rewarding for children (for instance, becoming involved with the church’s ministries and mission). Another helpful framework to understand the impact of gratefulness in young people’s lives is the “positive youth development (PYD) theory” of developmental psychologist Richard Lerner and Peter Benson, founder of the Search Institute (190). Students are encouraged to find meaningful ways to contribute their talents and resources as they grow up—and may even discern their vocation. Other resources include the “Gratitude Adjective Checklist” for kids, ages seven to nine years old (241), and the “Gratitude Questionnaire-5,” developed for students ages ten to nineteen (242). Adult readers will recognize many reasons to give thanks for these tools.
Congregations can assist parents with the noble goal of raising up “Generation Grateful.” This book would work well in a Sunday school class or small-group context over several weeks. Although the book is long, it is written in a conversational tone; and it offers realistic advice from the authors’ experiences as parents and practitioners. For example, they describe what a parent could say to coach an early elementary child facing a bully on the school bus (pages 163-165). Their work is based on how the authors have effectively helped children and youth through contemporary situations. Sunday school coordinators, seasoned volunteers, or committed parents would make appropriate discussion leaders for this excellent study.