5 Ways to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids
by Cindi McMenamin
Do you find yourself continually reminding your kids to say “thank you” when they are the recipients of kindness? Do you also find yourself frustrated when they complain or behave with a sense of entitlement?
As this is the season when we turn our hearts toward an attitude of Thanksgiving, teaching that attitude to our children is crucial. God commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and our children are not exempt from that command. So I understand, Mom, if you feel burdened to teach gratitude, contentment, and thankfulness to your children.
If you are struggling with helping your children learn gratitude and contentment, here are five ways to teach your kids to be grateful, in season and out:
- Continually point out their blessings.
Our children can naturally feel entitled to certain privileges, activities, and experiences, especially when they aren’t reminded to be thankful in the midst of abundant blessings. To keep them from contracting the disease of entitlement that is taking over their generation, continually point out their blessings, especially those they tend to take for granted.
As a ministry family, we often experienced tight times, financially, so we emphasized the privileges and blessings we experienced as a result of ministry. Many times, I would tell my young daughter “We get to do this because Daddy is a pastor” or “Mom can take us here because God blessed the book she wrote.” That instilled in our daughter the principle that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
My friend, Connie, who is raising two daughters, ages 8 and 6, says “In our family prayers, we try to remember to give thanks not just for the immediate, but for overall blessings that might easily be overlooked, like the ability to go to a school that honors God, getting to go to Disneyworld as a perk to Daddy’s job, and having Mom work from home so she’s always available to them after school and during the summer.”
“Whenever they start to feel a sense of entitlement and verbalize it, we explain that the blessing they are coming to expect on a regular basis was something from the Lord and they are never promised it again,” Connie said. That helps them see each blessing as something to be appreciated and even treasured.
- Address an ungrateful heart immediately.
Hearing our children complain that they didn’t get enough, their portion was smaller than their sibling’s or “We never get to do stuff like that” can be burdensome as we realize a lack of contentment is stirring in their young hearts. Connie said she and her husband, Tyler, address this immediately and turn it into a teaching moment.
“In the middle of an ungrateful heart moment, we have our girls pick one to three things they can be grateful for and focus on those things by giving thanks to the Lord for them,” she said. That has helped her girls stop short in the midst of complaints, knowing that a recount of blessings will be happening next!
Even a simple gesture like forgetting to thank someone still indicates a heart that is not immediately grateful, Connie said. “When they receive gifts, we ask that they make eye contact, acknowledge the gift and the giver, and express their thanks in a specific way. We encourage them to make drawings or color pages and write a little note, as well as verbally say “thank you” to those who have invited them somewhere, shared something with them, or allowed them to do something special.
- Teach them Scriptures on gratitude.
One mom told me she was experiencing a “There’s nothing we can do” moment in exasperation of her child’s verbalization of ingratitude. That’s when she picked a verse for her whole family to work on memorizing.
The family started with Psalm 23:1 (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”) and they started focusing on what their needs actually are and how they are constantly being provided for. Other suggested verses for your family to memorize and reflect on include 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (“In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”) or 1 Chronicles 16:34 (“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”).
- Write down individual and family blessings and review them once a year.
Years ago, I started recording blessings on slips of paper and attached each one to a ring that hangs on my study wall. Each year on New Year’s Day or the first week of January, we go out to dinner and read through the slips of paper, recounting what God did in our lives and circumstances over the past year. By making a celebration out of recounting our blessings, it became something my family looks forward to each year. Remembering what God has done through the year keeps us with a proper perspective and reminds us that God is good and everything we have comes from Him.
- Pray for your children’s hearts.
You and I, as parents, cannot put gratefulness into our children’s hearts. That is something only the Holy Spirit can do, as we take advantage of teaching moments and model thankfulness to them from our own hearts.
The Lord calls us to be content and joyful; to give thanks in everything. As we do that, we pray they will follow suit. But in addition to modeling thankfulness in your own life, be in prayer that the Holy Spirit will make gratitude a habit and lifestyle in your children, as well. Philippians 2:13 assures us: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (NLT).
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and others. She has authored more than a dozen books including When Women Walk Alone(more than 140,000 copies sold), When Couples Walk Together(co-authored with her husband, Hugh), 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband,10 Secrets to Becoming a Worry-Free Mom, andWhen a Mom Inspires Her Daughter. For more on her resources to help strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.