My Ungrateful Toddler


A healthy dose of gratitude comes back in the form of happiness.

I once wrote a newsletter about happiness, and in my research about what creates true happiness, I found that the secret is gratitude. A healthy dose of gratitude comes back in the form of happiness. Seems pretty easy… too bad it doesn’t work that way, especially when you’re a toddler.

Why is it that my 2 (almost 3) year old can’t express gratitude for anything? Well, that’s not fair… he says thank you pretty often. But it’s in the robotic way that we’ve trained him to do. An automatic, not something he feels.

I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but my days can get pretty long. My son (you know, the ungrateful one I’ve already mentioned?) and my daughter, who is 10-months old and DELIGHTFUL compared to the sassy toddler, are spending their every waking moment with me. I am also working remotely as a college professor. It’s great to be able to work full-time with such flexibility, but man, the days can get long sometimes.

Most of the time, it’s really good. But some days, I get into a funk. That’s the best way I can describe it… a funk. I can tell when I’m in one, and my husband can certainly tell, too. I’m hoping the kids can’t tell.

Recently, I was in one of those funks, and I was explaining to my husband (or maybe I was complaining) about the rough day we had; how our son was disagreeable about pretty much everything. I explained that I had been thinking about how to teach our kids gratitude; they certainly aren’t born with the ability.

Is that a coconut? You bet it is. It gets PRETTY fancy around here.

I do lovely things for my son on a daily basis, only to be shouted at that he didn’t WANT it done that way, or he didn’t WANT that meal I just made, or he didn’t WANT those shoes on his feet, etc. And I just want to scream at him that he is incredibly lucky to have all those things! He has food to eat, clothes to wear, warm water for his bath every night, clean water to drink, a warm bed to sleep in, and parents who love him. Plus a whole lot of other things that he doesn’t appreciate.

Teaching him gratitude could open up a lifetime of happiness for him.


And then I remember that he’s two. His brain isn’t wired for gratitude yet. Everything else he’s learning is through watching, which means for him to learn to be grateful, we need to be outwardly grateful in front of him. I had this moment of truth when I was making him a grilled cheese sandwich that he had already told me he didn’t want. (It was delicious, by the way.) In that moment, I realized that this one thing was a big one – teaching him gratitude could open up a lifetime of happiness for him.

Expressing gratitude should be something we do all the time, right? But when I really think about it, I wonder if my kids see that. Do I actually, out loud, state things that I’m grateful for? I can tell you that when I’m in those funks, I definitely don’t. But I also wonder, would expressing a little gratitude help me to overcome the funk? I’ll keep you posted. And by the way, my son is a great kid. One of the sweetest, most kind-hearted little boys I’ve ever known. Someday he’ll be grateful, too.

I read some examples of how to teach gratitude here, but I wonder, in what ways are you teaching your children to be grateful?

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Dr. Deb Bobendrier is a chiropractor, Professor, wife, and mom. She is co-owner of Discover Chiropractic in Mankato, MN with her husband, Dr. Cuong Huynh. She is a Professor of Health Sciences at Rasmussen University where she teaches Anatomy & Physiology courses. And finally, she is mother to Aidan, born in November, 2017, and Daisy, born in December, 2019. She is passionate about her community, and serves on various committees and volunteers for a variety of organizations, and enjoys doing educational presentations to community members. She was the recipient of the Greater Mankato Rotary Service Above Self award in 2016, the YWCA Mankato’s Volunteer of the Year in 2017, and was the YWCA Young Woman of Distinction in 2020.


  1. I haven’t had a toddler for several years, but I remember thinking a lot about empathy, which goes hand in hand with gratitude. When I would get frustrated, I would explain to my toddler everything I was doing for them. They seemed to get it … for a few seconds, anyway. I also made an effort to talk about how others must feel in different situations. Not sure how much it helped, but my now-preteens certainly express more empathy (and gratitude!) these days.

    • Empathy. YES. Another thing we’re learning about over here. It’s interesting to see a toddler go through the confusion as to what he/she should do when they know someone else is sad or hurting. My toddler currently just smiles and remains quiet. He clearly understands that something has changed, but isn’t certain about what to do about it. There are flashes of empathy and concern for others, but nothing consistent yet. I will implement your strategies!

  2. Oh Spicy! How I miss you! You are doing amazing! I believe gratitude grows over time. He’s very young yet. But you’re right, teach them, be a model for them, which I’m sure you got nailed down. You are amazing! One thing rings true, start this. Tell someone for 21 days 3 things what you are grateful for, leave peoples names out, no names. Pick someone to tell who wants to also share 3 things. The small, yet sometimes big things. Example: sunrises, postit notes, paved roads. Try not to repeat. You can do it with kids too! Kid: chicken nuggets, ketchup, pumpkins.

    • I miss you, too, Kelly! And thank you for the idea! That’s maybe a good thing to do the month of November for Thanksgiving. I’m currently doing a “I’m grateful for…” statement that we write down each morning; we only list one thing. I JUST started this within the last week, and already the things that he’s grateful for have made me smile. Noodles was one. The sun was another. Makes me feel even more grateful for the simple things that we absolutely take for granted… like noodles! 🙂

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