No one wants ungrateful children. We think of ungrateful kids as selfish and spoiled. Unfortunately for us parents, gratitude does not come naturally to most of us. Many children say “mine” long before they say “yours”. We teach children to share and take turns since most children are not naturally inclined to do these things when left to their own devices. Part of parenting is teaching kids gratitude.
What Is Gratitude?
What is gratitude? Dictionary.com defines gratitude as “the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful”. By teaching kids gratitude we are teaching them to be thankful. When we have a spirit of thankfulness, we tend to see more clearly the big and small blessings in our life. In contrast, when we have a general attitude of ungratefulness, we tend to complain more and notice the seeming holes in our lives.
Why Is Teaching Kids Gratitude Important?
The most important reason we have for teaching kids gratitude is that the Bible is full of exhortations to give thanks to God as well as examples of people giving thanks. Here are just a few of the hundreds of verses on the topic (all references are ESV unless otherwise indicated):
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” Psalm 57:9
“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving” Psalm 69:30
“I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever” Psalm 86:12
“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber opened toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel 6:10
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their hearts were darkened” Romans 6:21
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” Colossians 3:17
Raising Grateful Children
We know what gratitude is, why raising grateful children is important, and that the Bible frequently talks about giving thanks, but practically how can parents teach their children how to be thankful and how to show gratitude? Raising grateful children does not just happen. Teaching kids gratitude requires parents to be intentional. This sounds daunting and like you must be “Mrs. Thanksgiving” all of the time, but really all it takes is desire, frequent prayer and willingness to admit to yourself (and often your children) when you mess up. It is no different than anything else in Christian parenting!
7 Practical Ways For Teaching Kids Gratitude
- Teach please and thank you. Even the youngest of children can learn to use these important words!
- Write thank you notes. This was standard operating procedure not that many years ago, but has largely fallen out of practice. Children who cannot yet write can dictate their note to you and color it or decorate it with stickers. Letting our children see us writing our own notes is also a way we can demonstrate a thankful spirit. To make this an easier habit to establish, keep a box of notes and decorating accessories handy – then you have no excuses! You can let your children pick out new notes when you start to run low, or if you are a crafty family (this is not me!) you can make your own.
- Have your children regularly thank other members of your family. There are so many ways to make this fit your family! One way to do this is once a week at supper, each member says something they are thankful for about every other member. Also, make it a point to thank your kids when you catch them doing good… “Thanks for sharing with your little brother!”, “Thanks for putting away your clothes without being asked”, “Thanks for petting Fluffy so sweetly”. Modeling thankfulness is so important. Children learn so much by observing!
- Thank people when you are out and about: the waiter at the restaurant, the bagger at the grocery store, the nursery worker at church, the nurse at the doctors office. Again, modeling gratitude!
- Pray regularly with your children. As part of this, thank God for answered prayer requests as well as for blessings we often take for granted – air conditioning, running water, a caring baseball coach, finding a good book at the library, and the list goes on.
- Ask your children what they are thankful for. Young children may not quite understand the concept, but if you make this a regular part of your family life, they will soon understand! Their answer may be something “correct” such as “my new coloring book” or it may be something “incorrect” such as “that my brother got in trouble”, but the important part is that they are exercising their mind and growing in their understanding of gratitude.
- Ask God to prick your heart when you are ungrateful, and prick you to also confess to your children when necessary. Ask Him to show you things to be thankful for even on the hard days. This may look like confessing to an ungrateful attitude when you had to wait longer than expected at the restaurant and complained to the family or it may look like complaining about the rain drenching you at the grocery store. We want to teach our children that is is not wrong to feel frustrated about these things, but how we express our frustration matters. Being frustrated is not an excuse for complaining and being ungrateful for the financial resources to go out to eat or for rain watering the earth. You get the picture. (I am not Mrs. Perfection here!)
Raising Grateful Children Is Worth It!
Teaching kids gratitude requires diligence and patience but is so important and worthwhile. Grateful people are pleasant to be around and are life giving. Grateful people appreciate the blessings big and small that God has given. Grateful Christians are able to appreciate the biggest gift of all: Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Children model what the see in the adults around them. Let’s model gratitude! What are you thankful for today? How have you taught your children thankfulness? I’d love to hear in the comments!
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For babies, and toddlers, board books are are a must have! These sweet books, A Very Thankful Prayer and A Pumpkin Prayer with their rhymes and beautiful illustrations are a great way to help teach thankfulness from the beginning!
For preschool and early school age children: This delightful book teaches children that God is the giver of all blessings, including thankful hearts.
For the family: This blessing jar and thankful turkey are a great ways to spend time as a family discussing what you are thankful for. Each family member can write/dictate something and store it in the jar. Once the jar is full, spend time reminiscing about all the things you are thankful for! The banner is a cheerful way to remind your family what Thanksgiving is all about, though it could easily be displayed all fall.
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