Children’s expressions of gratitude and their relations with parental values and parenting: insights from China and the United States

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Yue Liang (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Jonathan Tudge

Abstract: Gratitude, referring to a dispositional trait to appropriately show gratefulness to a benefactor for a gift or help received (Tudge, Freitas, & O’Brien, 2015), has been viewed as a moral virtue by philosophers and psychologists (e.g., Carr, Morgan, & Gulliford, 2015; McConnell, 1993, 2016). According to Tudge and colleagues, gratitude, as a moral virtue occurs when the beneficiary recognizes that a benefit is freely and intentionally provided by a benefactor, and the beneficiary autonomously repay the benefactor with something that the benefactor wants or needs if an opportunity presents itself. Gratitude, like any virtue, is not innate. Possessing virtuous gratitude requires one to understand the motivation and intentionality behind the benefits, knowing what might be the appropriate responses in a given situation, and to be able to think and act autonomously (Morgan & Gulliford, 2018; Tudge, Freitas, & O’Brien, 2015). To acquire these sociocognitive abilities and experiences, actively engaging in increasingly complex and relevant practices is necessary. Through these practices, one also gradually internalizes standards that are morally required and highly valued by the cultural group to which he/she belongs. Therefore, the development of virtuous gratitude is driven by the synergistic effects of different factors, such as sociocognitive abilities, cultural values, and everyday interactions between parents and children. The purpose of the present study is to have a better understanding of children’s expressions of gratitude and their relations with parental values and parenting in China and the United States. First, the present research investigated the expression of gratitude among 520 Chinese youth (M = 10.60 years, SD = 2.09; 56.0% female) and 489 North American youth (M = 10.28 years, SD = 2.11; 53.8% female). Consistent with what I had expected, Chinese children were less likely to express concrete gratitude, and more likely to express connective gratitude than were the North American children. Additionally, different age-related patterns of expressions of verbal, concrete, and connective gratitude were found. Across societies, older children were more likely to express connective gratitude and less likely to express concrete gratitude than were their younger counterparts. Beyond that, I examined the association between parental values for their children and children’s expressions of gratitude. However, results did not support the hypothesis that parents’ values of autonomy and relatedness would be associated with children’s expressions of connective gratitude. Findings indicated that parental values and gratitude expression were related in different ways in the Chinese and the U.S. sample. Parental values of separateness negatively predicted expression of concrete gratitude among Chinese participants, whereas in the U.S. sample, separated values were negatively associated with connective gratitude. Furthermore, by interviewing 29 North American and 19 Chinese families, I identified strategies that parents used to promote gratitude in China and the United States. In line with what had been predicted, results indicated that both the Chinese and the U.S. parents used various kinds of strategies, including role modeling, discussion about gratitude, and reinforcing gratitude expression behaviors. Moreover, Chinese parents emphasized the importance of expressing gratitude to family and relatives and regarded expressing gratefulness to family members as an effective strategy to foster gratitude in children. Additionally, I explored the relation between children’s expressions of gratitude and their wishes. Consistent with the hypothesis, findings of the present study suggested that children’s social-oriented wishes were significantly associated with connective gratitude for both the Chinese and the U.S. children. Finally, a positive relation between connective gratitude and preferences to give to charity has been found among Chinese children. However, no significant relations between gratitude and spending preferences were found among the North American youth. Findings of the present study provide important educational implications for educators and practitioners aiming to develop effective intervention programs for character development. This study also greatly advances the understanding of the ways in which culture influences the development of virtuous gratitude.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Culture, Gratitude, Parental values, Parenting
Gratitude $v Cross-cultural studies
Gratitude in children $v Cross-cultural studies
Parent and child $v Cross-cultural studies
Social values $v Cross-cultural studies

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