Are you constantly reminding your children 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?
Exercising gratitude is not an option for a believer--it’s a command. First Thessalonians 5:18 exhorts believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, even though it can be challenging, teaching our children to be grateful is instilling in them a godly characteristic that will set them apart from the rest of the world.
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:
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1. 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.
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2. 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.
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3. 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.
“We're using the Joshua Code for Kids book which breaks down the verse for them, and God gives us opportunity to refer to the verse throughout the week. It is really showing them how to study a verse and apply it. We don’t put pressure on a time frame for them to memorize it. We're letting it happen organically and not studying it every day. We weave in our regular devotional, and like this morning, we quiz ourselves on the previous verses.”
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,” and 1 Chronicles 16:34, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
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4. 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.
Connie and Tyler do something similar: “Every November we fill out gratitude slips by writing something down each day that we’re thankful for and sharing it at the dinner table. Each time, the girls can't wait to share what they wrote and what they’re grateful for. And they love to see how many slips there are on the 'tree' or in the vase or bowl at the end of the month.”
Last year, Emma, 6 asked her mother to make turkey feathers and she dressed up a stuffed animal as a turkey. Her sister, Estelle, 8, handed out the feathers and Emma asked everyone around the table to write something, then share it. Connie said “When they were done sharing, Emma taped the feathers on her stuffy and made a beautiful turkey filled with gratitude. It was pretty special to see her take charge of this.”
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5. 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. Philippians 2:13 assures us: "For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him" (NLT).
Here is a suggested prayer for your children’s hearts:
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for all You have given me, my family, and my children. Help me to model a grateful heart before them, in all things--even the disappointing things--so that they will learn to be thankful in all things, too. God, please stir my children’s hearts to want to please You and obey You by expressing gratitude to You for everything in their lives, too. Open their eyes to see the blessings they take for granted and give them hearts that praise You in the miraculous as well as the mundane. May they see that as they praise You and exercise a grateful heart to others, too, there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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, and When 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.
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Originally published Wednesday, 17 July 2019.