By Tammy Darling
Because we love our children and grandchildren, we want to do whatever we can to make sure the world’s discontent doesn’t lead them into an endless pursuit of stuff that doesn’t satisfy. Yes, it is possible to raise grateful kids in a self-entitled society.
Living in a discontented society, many kids grow up with the attitude modeled by many adults: “I’ll be happy when. . . .” True happiness comes from learning to be grateful for what we have today.
Of course, we can always remind children to say thank you—and this is often necessary with very young children. However, ultimately we want them to learn to be thankful.
We are, by nature, self-centered beings. But we don’t have to stay that way. We can choose gratefulness.
Raising our children and grandchildren to be grateful is important for many reasons. Grateful children are more polite and pleasant to be around. They tend to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Grateful kids look outside themselves; they realize the world doesn’t revolve around them.
Learning to be grateful now will reap future benefits for our children and grandchildren. A 2003 study conducted by the University of California at Davis showed that grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism—along with lower levels of depression, resentment, and anger.
Cultivating a heart of thankfulness will reap a bountiful harvest. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the formula: The more we thank, the more we see to be thankful for. An abundance of thankfulness develops a heart of gratitude.
Gratitude goes beyond thankfulness and is a life-changing attitude. A grateful heart escorts us into the presence of God where we are forever changed—something all Christian parents desire for themselves as well as their children and grandchildren.
We tend to be more grateful when we take our eyes off ourselves. Considering others helps foster gratitude. For instance, seeing firsthand that people in a homeless shelter have much less than we do can help us understand the saying, “I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
I want my kids to do more than realize there are people out there who have less than they do; I want them to care about the less fortunate and be moved to help them.
Our children and grandchildren take their cues from us. It will be difficult to teach them to be grateful if we are constantly reaching for the next thing, never really satisfied with where we are or what we have.
While we can’t make ourselves be grateful, we can recognize that the movements of the heart are in direct correlation to what the eyes of the heart perceive. Gratitude is a matter of vision. As such, we can focus our attention—and that of our children and grandchildren—on the things that draw us to God in appreciation for who he is and what he has done.
We can teach, nurture, and develop gratitude in children like any other skill. The skill can be developed through activities such as keeping a gratitude journal, writing thank you letters, creating a family gratitude list, and sharing words of gratitude aloud.
The key is a genuine relationship with Christ. When parents understand this, we can begin to pass on to our children and grandchildren the virtues of gratefulness. Knowing that parental influence plays a major role in a child’s attitude and behavior should inspire us to do a heart check on ourselves. How grateful are we, really? We cannot pass on what we do not possess.
There are many ways to show our children and grandchildren that we serve an extraordinary God. As they begin to comprehend that God is good all the time, they will develop a heart of true gratitude.
• Model the behavior you want to see. When you look for the good in a situation, assume the best in people, and give God praise in every situation, it rubs off on children. Before long, it will show up in their behavior as well.
• Thank God with your child. Begin each prayer with, “Thank you, God, for . . . .” No matter the need or problem we want to take before God, there’s always something we can thank him for as well.
• Practice appropriate manners and etiquette. Using phrases like, “I appreciate,“ “I am grateful for,“ and “You are such a great help at” cultivate an attitude of gratitude within the home.
• Plan a family project that involves going without something important. For example, try going without bread for a week or walking to any destination less than a mile away. Sometimes simple sacrifices cause us to recognize things we normally take for granted and help us to be more grateful for what we have.
• Expect thanks but don’t force it. There is nothing wrong with encouraging children to express gratitude or reminding them to say thank you; but forcing a child to say it may cause resentment and future rebellion.
• Take advantage of family service opportunities. Whether a short-term mission trip or a one-day volunteer stint, service projects provide a prime venue for developing gratitude.
• Place a high value on relationships within and outside the home. Happiness is not found in things, but in relationships. Take every opportunity to show that family and friends are highly prized and appreciated.
• Practice saying no. Kids constantly want what is new, better, or just plain more. But it’s nearly impossible to feel grateful when your every wish is granted. Saying no makes yes all the sweeter.
• Teach through role-playing. This works especially well with younger children. Along with the kids, act out a scenario where someone went out of his way for someone else. Have the receiver express gratitude as well as a negative response, then discuss the differences.
• Give children responsibility for their possessions. A child who knows a lost or broken toy will be replaced with a new one has no motivation to care for his things. However, the more a child assumes responsibility for his things—knowing they won’t automatically be replaced or that he’ll have to cover all or part of the cost—the more he’ll value and appreciate those items.
• Incorporate gratitude into your daily conversations. “We’re so blessed to have Grandma live so close to us.” “I’m glad you listened the first time I told you to pick up your toys.” “Aren’t the colors of the sunset amazing?” Speak according to Philippians 4:8—whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and praiseworthy.
• Focus on praise. Giving God praise takes the spotlight off ourselves and helps to remind us how much we have to be thankful for. Play praise music in the home and let your kids regularly hear you praising God.
• Take it easy on the gift giving. We may love to splurge on our kids and grandkids, but often the more they get, the more they expect. That’s why so many kids today live with a sense of entitlement, believing they deserve what they get and so much more. Choose meaningful gifts.
• Develop positive thinking. A glass-half-empty mentality leads to discontent and ingratitude. When the glass is seen as half full, however, problems are seen as blessings in disguise. When we consider how much worse a situation could have been, we can thank the Lord it wasn’t.
• Go to the Bible. God has given us many scriptural examples we can use to teach gratefulness. David wrote hundreds of psalms to articulate his grateful heart. And both Job and Paul are good examples of gratefulness in the midst of suffering.
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude in our children and grandchildren takes time. Don’t become discouraged; remain consistent in your training. In time, they will begin to experience the joy that can only come from a grateful heart.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
Growing Thankful Families
Growing Grateful Kids
by Susie Larson
(Moody Publishers, 2010)
Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World
by Jill Rigby
(Howard Books, 2008)
by Holly Davis
(Standard Publishing, 2007)
My Thankful Heart: A Book about Being Grateful
by Sally Lloyd-Jones
(Tyndale Kids, 2004)
For the whole family:
Growing Together in Gratitude: Character Stories for Families
by Barbara Rainey