Family BondingHow to Teach an Ungrateful Child a Lesson?

How to teach an ungrateful child a lesson

How to Teach an Ungrateful Child a Lesson?

How often have you been on a shopping trip or a public place before your child/children started nagging for something or suddenly decided to throw a temper tantrum? Or you’ve just reached home after a hard day’s work, fixed up a meal, and suddenly your kid wants chicken wings instead of broccoli?

‘I want this, not that………..’
‘He’s got one, so I want one too………’

‘I hate veggies, I want meat…………’

These are all common responses from kids aged 12 or below in their day-to-day lives.

Raising children is no easy task, especially more so if they start demonstrating ungrateful and entitled attitudes from an early age. But thankfully you can tackle the issue head-on and teach your child/children certain lessons to rectify their ingratitude and steer them towards becoming balanced, functional adults.

Why and How Do Children Become Ungrateful?

Why and how do children become ungrateful
Why and how do children become ungrateful

Simply put, it has a lot to do with the parenting culture that has been propagating since the late ‘90s. Parenting saw a large divergence since the ‘90s as more and more parents entered the workforce, leaving them little time to raise their kids properly. To compensate for this missing time, parents have grown accustomed to spoiling their kids by caving into their every demand, hoping the materialistic things will make up for the all-important parent-child bonding.

But instead of making things better, it has only made things worse, resulting in a generation of pampered adults who still act and think like children. Getting things for free without even asking creates a sense of entitlement in children which they carry into their adulthood. All this coddling and spoiling of children results in a sense of entitlement which prevents the nurturing of gratitude in a child’s mind.

Excessive coddling also does the same thing is well. When you coddle a child and affirm everything they say (both at school and home) you create a dangerous situation where the child/children create their own bubble world and detach from reality. If something doesn’t go the way they want, they react in an ungrateful manner, not realizing that reality is not how they want things to be.

If a child grows to be ungrateful, it’s usually the result of two extreme parenting styles. Usually, there are two types of parents: parents who go above and beyond to provide their kids with a good life, and parents who believe strict discipline is the only way to raise a proper human being.

The first type of parenting style is too overprotective of their children, not wanting to hurt their children’s feelings in any way which has resulted in the ‘everyone gets a medal’ culture that’s all too prevalent today. Strict parents on the other hand overdo it and lash out at their kids at every opportunity and try to have full control over their children’s lives, which the child takes as tyranny, developing ingratitude for all the cruel treatment they receive from their parents.

Let’s be clear about one thing here- selfishness and ungratefulness are two different things, but people often use the words interchangeably. A little bit of selfishness should exist in every human being as it makes them world-weary and prevents others from taking advantage of them. You should encourage your child to look out for themselves, but ensure they don’t become thankless brats in the process.

On the flip side, you also need to make sure you’re drawing a sensible line between selfishness and ingratitude before taking steps to rectify your child’s behavior. Without proper distinction, your attempts to teach your child gratitude might backfire and turn you into a villain figure in your child’s life which you don’t want.

How To Teach An Ungrateful Child A Lesson?

For the longest time, shaming and punishment were two of the key pillars of parenting in Western society, and still remain so in most parts of the world, especially in Asia and Africa. Though these methods might seem detestable, the way respecting and obeying seniors are ingrained in many cultures make them crude but effective despite the associated mental side effects.

But in the West, the culture is very different, as are Western views on children’s rights and how children should be raised. Studies have clearly shown that shaming and punishment are two of the least effective ways to deal with ungrateful children, so here are a couple of ways to teach an ungrateful child a less without resorting to physical or mental abuse:

Making Them Aware Of Their Behavior

Before resorting to stricter approaches to disciplining an ungrateful child, you should try softer approaches first. One of the first approaches you should take is to make them aware of their ingratitude instead of reproaching or shaming them. For example, let’s say your child didn’t like a birthday present from one of their relatives. You can easily say,

“Your aunt gave you a nice present she thought she would like. Try to understand that she didn’t have to do it in the first place because she doesn’t owe you anything. So shouldn’t you be grateful that you got something in the first place?” Trust me, 9 out of 10 times it works better than growling ‘Stop acting like a spoilt brat’ at your child. The younger the child is, the easier it is to cultivate gratitude in a child’s mind with soft words. By making them realize the time, money, and effort someone spent for them, they’ll be less prone to complaining in the future.

While making them aware of their behavior, you should be aware of your own behavior as well. After all, it’s scientifically proven that children will try to imitate their parents from early childhood once they’re smart enough to talk and think. If you demonstrate ungrateful behavior, don’t be shocked or surprised if your child does the same as well.

Making them aware of their behavior
Making them aware of their behavior

Teaching Them to Appreciate Their Own Life

If teaching your kids gratitude through helping others isn’t possible in your current situation, you can always go ahead and teach them to appreciate their own lives by pointing out the discrepancies and misfortunes of people around them. Teach them that gratitude is integral to living a happy life, and those who don’t appreciate what they have or get never experience true happiness.

The schools your kids go to are bound to have children who are less fortunate than them; maybe their parents can’t buy them good clothes, pack them a proper lunch, or buy them new textbooks. Compared to these unlucky children, your kid probably has toys and video games to enjoy on top of their basic necessities.

By rubbing their nose in reality instead of scolding them, not only improve your relationship with your children but allow them to critically think and improve themselves from what they learn and observe. Teenagers tend to benefit from this approach more than their younger counterparts since they have a better understanding of the world and reality.

Teaching them to help others

One of the easiest ways to teach children gratitude is by letting them experience it by doing something for others. If you volunteer for charity work or work in a soup kitchen on weekends, bring your kid along with you. If they aren’t old enough to help they will see the various grateful interactions between volunteers and the needy people who came for the charity.

And if they’re old enough to help around, they’ll get to experience firsthand the gratitude of people less fortunate than them. Hopefully, it will also make them realize how lucky they are to have the things they have in life and instill a strong sense of happiness in them while showing them the harsh realities of life.

If you have any elderly neighbors around, you can also ask your kids to go introduce themselves to the neighbors and help them out with small chores like shopping or raking leaves in the front yard. These kinds of gestures might seem small but have ripple effects that will make them better adults in the future.

Teaching them to help others
Teaching them to help others

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Teaching Your Child Empathy

In today’s busy world, empathy is becoming less and less of a character trait in kids as parents are failing to teach them the importance of it. Empathy is the ability of a person to relate to the emotions and situations of others. It’s not the same as sympathy, which might sound nice and all but is just another word for pity at the end of the day.

When your child learns to empathize with others, they will subconsciously nurture gratitude as they can easily put themselves in the shoes of someone less fortunate than them. It also teaches them how their words and actions can impact others, turning them into more considerate human beings.

Learn to Say ‘No’

Learning to say no to your kids is an important part of parenting that most modern parents tend to overlook either out of guilt or a cavalier parenting attitude. If a child is conditioned to get things as soon as they want them, it will create a sense of entitlement in them early on that will make their life more complicated the older they grow up.

Just because you love your kid and want to give them the best life possible doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes’ to everything. A trip to Disneyland should only be reserved for special occasions, not because your kid woke up one weekend and decided that he/she wants to enjoy a few joy rides and some treats.

Despite their limited thinking abilities, children can be very emotionally manipulative and will resort to a range of tactics starting from emotional blackmail to throwing a screaming fit in the middle of Walmart. No matter what tactic they resort to, you’ll have to firmly say no, and if necessary, punish them by grounding them for a day for their behavior.

When you secede to their demands immediately, a child’s mind processes it as a bribe and will ramp up this toxic behavior in the future. But by saying no and putting conditions to get what they want, you can ingrain a sense of responsibility and gratitude in your kids which in turn they will teach their kids.

Learn to Say ‘No’
Learn to Say ‘No’

Shame and Criticize as a Last Resort

Not all kids have the same temperament; sometimes soft and loving efforts to teach a child gratitude can fall on deaf ears, especially if your child is obstinate. If you’re stuck in such a situation, no one will blame you if you shame or criticize your child a bit, preferably not in front of others.

Shame and criticism are two very strong emotional anchors that can propel your child toward the right behavior and gratitude. While using harsh words is acceptable, beating or corporal punishments like locking your child in a room can boomerang and cause deterioration of a child’s mental health. So make sure to not go overboard when disciplining your child in this manner.


1. How to deal with an ungrateful grown child?

Grown children are hard nuts to crack since they’re already grown. Chances are your kind and gentle approach won’t work and you have to be strict with them to the point of rudeness.

2. How to show my child how lucky they are?

You can show your child how lucky they are by taking a trip around the poorer parts of your town or comparing them with poorer neighbors or relatives.

3. What are the common signs of an ungrateful child?

Two of the most common signs of an ungrateful child are a lack of empathy and a self-centric egotistic personality.

Final Thoughts

Raising a child into a proper human being can be a daunting task, but one most parents take because of the immense potential their children might one day demonstrate. Teaching gratitude is an important part of raising children, and hopefully, the tips above will help you do just that if you have an unruly child.

Don’t be agitated if you don’t see results right away, conditioning children to the right behaviors and attitudes can take some time depending on your child’s personality. Be patient and make adjustments as necessary, and if you realize you can’t do this even with your spouse’s support, take your child to therapy.

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Tyler S. Rios, a parent of two, shares her valuable insights into family life. Her blogs focus on parent-child relationships and navigating family conflicts. Tyler's wealth of experience empowers readers to handle family challenges with resilience and resolution.

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