Originally Published: 1-23-2018
As we look at the subject of developing grateful children, we can’t forget the heart of our children. We can seek to help to model gratefulness and teach them to give but that won’t necessarily change their hearts. However, it’s what we have been called to do as parents. Our job as God’s ambassadors is to teach and train our children in his ways. It’s not an easy job, but God gives us grace to do the job to which he has called us. We can depend on him to lead us and strengthen us in this task. Let’s look at some of the reasons we are all so ungrateful and then look to the Word of God for direction. We’ll end with some practical steps we can take to help develop gratitude in our children.
Reasons for being ungrateful
There are many words used to describe someone who is ungrateful. The most obvious one is selfishness; which applies to all of us. We get the idea that what we have is ours and only ours. If we want it, we go after it. This is because we want what we want. This selfishness leads to entitlement. A person who is entitled feels they deserve honor or title or things based on who they are. In our families, entitlement can take place because it has been fueled by overabundance. It’s easier to just give in to the demands of a child than to stand your ground. This flows out of having the wrong goal; which is to make the child happy at any cost. Our goal as Christian parents should never be about the child’s happiness. We need to have the goal of pointing our children to Christ and exposing their need of a Savior.
“…which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will you give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11
God, our Father, gives us good gifts. A good gift is one that will be in our best interest. The same is true for a child. We may not respond with what children want. The wants of your children can be a never ending list, just like our list of wants. Sometimes the good gift is no gift. Expectations of getting everything we desire and more doesn’t lend itself to thankfulness. It tends more toward selfishness. We have to be aware of over saturation in our child. To pile gift on top of gift on top of gift presents the problem of not really being a gift anymore. It is all too much. In the scene from the movie, “The Christmas Story”, around the tree on Christmas morning, we see gifts flying, paper being thrown everywhere, gifts opened and then tossed over the shoulder in order to reach for the next one. There is a point of saturation. Look for it! Be aware of it! Giving too much doesn’t promote thankfulness.
Thankfulness, a command
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
As followers of Christ, we are commanded to be thankful. There is a connection with peace and being thankful here. When we aren’t grateful we are unsettled and can be agitated because we aren’t satisfied. Satisfaction brings peace and thankfulness breeds satisfaction. If we are commanded to be thankful then it only makes sense that this is a characteristic we should to seek to teach our children.
- Model thankfulness – Does your child see you being thankful for the things in your life? Do your children hear more grumbling from you than thankfulness? A simple thank you to them will go a long way in showing them to be grateful. Evaluate your own heart to see if you are being thankful.
- Thank you – These words should be taught to your children at a very young age. There are those who teach the sign for thank you to their babies. Then after a while move along to the verbal. This takes time but the habit of it begins to instill the need to be thankful.
- Life is not about you – This is something we have to constantly remind ourselves of as parents. What my child does or says is not about us! We need to teach our children that life is not about them either. We are born thinking it’s about us! Children need to be taught that life is about God.
- Verbal Vertical Gratitude – We need to take the time to rehearse the gifts God has given our families. The attention needs to be drawn to him as the provider of all we have.
- People are Gifts – Things are so important to us that we can forget people. It’s a good practice to make sure we are teaching children that others are more important than their toys. Practice this among siblings by serving one another.
There is no guarantee in this life that our children will be grateful for anything we do for them or give them. The only guarantee we have is that God gives us grace to train our children in his ways. This job is hard so our dependence on God is a must. Are you depending on him? It’s the only way to go forward in this job called parenting.