Gratefulness can be a big concept for kids to learn to practice when their tendency is to always focus on themselves. As a Christian mom, explaining thankfulness to your child according to the Bible and implementing some simple parenting techniques can go a long way in shaping their perspective, pointing them to Jesus, and helping them cultivate a grateful heart.
One afternoon, as the whining and complaining from my children again increased in frequency and volume, I sat with my head in my hands wondering how to address the behavior that most grates on my nerves.
Aside from hollering, “Be quiet!”, and sending them to their rooms to pout, I didn’t think anything could make them stop.
But maybe it wasn’t just about stopping them from whining: calling a temporary cease-fire that would continue, without a doubt, as soon as I released them from their time outs.
Perhaps the whining was simply a symptom of a greater issue: the lack of gratitude in my children’s hearts.
Teaching our children the value of gratefulness isn’t something that can be hammered into their heads or commanded from them in an instant. Pointing my finger and saying in my best gruff voice: “You better be thankful, kids!” isn’t really going to do the trick.
It’s a process, much like anything in parenting! And sometimes we just need some fresh ways to teach thankfulness.
Here are six powerful and effective truths, grounded in the Bible, that we can teach to our children. These truths will help them recognize their blessings, practice thankfulness and cultivate a joyful heart.
Teaching Your Child the Value of Thankfulness
1. Teach Gratefulness by Example
You may have noticed over the years that people take to social media to post what they’re thankful for each day of November.
The times I’ve particpated in such a challenge in the past, it’s really been helpful for my spirit to call to mind all the incredible blessings I have. Even the little things of each day combine to remind me of what a great, loving and mighty God we serve, a God who is able to do “exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).
I wonder though, once November has come and gone, whether I’ll continue to do this on my own. More than likely I’ll slide back into frequent complaining mode again. I can be very ungrateful sometimes, because by human nature it’s easy for me to look at what I don’t have or how bad my day is going and get a little pouty and whiny myself!
If you struggle with gratitude yourself, know that God can work this in YOUR heart as well as your children’s! He can fulfill our need for a grateful spirit that is constantly nurtured and cultivated so we can model thankfulness for our children.
Daily ask God for the grace to recognize your blessings. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you consciously think of and speak about what you’re thankful for throughout the day, so that you can be an encouragement to your children in this area.
If you find yourself in a frustrating situation, take a pause and look for the good in the situation. It’s like a friend of mine told me recently:
Two weeks ago, we were staying in a hotel, and the beds and pillows were hard and uncomfortable. I found myself getting frustrated. But I tried practicing thankfulness, reminding our family that instead of being disappointed that the hotel pillows and mattresses aren’t as nice as ours at home, we could be grateful that God had given us a warm and comfortable house to go home to afterward and that many people don’t have that.
That purposeful practice of gratefulness really brings to life these verses from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. NIV
2. Speak Bible Verses About Gratefulness Over Your Children
Many of the Psalms call on us to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!”. In your devotions or maybe in the morning during breakfast, try speaking or reading Scriptures of thankfulness over your family. This month we have been going through 24 Days of Psalms of Thanks five minute devotions using a paper chain for each day’s verse.
When we pray Scripture over our children, it has a powerful effect!
3. Share Your Own Personal Experience
When you child is having a moment of frustration or even anger because he or she doesn’t get what they want (or doesn’t get what another sibling has), share with them a time in your life when you struggled with gratitude.
My 10 year old brought home a paper yesterday describing my husband. He said in it, “My dad is not perfect, but he is great and he wants to help me!” And he’s absolutely right! :) It’s so important for our kids to see us be honest about our struggles.
The purpose of parenting our children in the “way they should go” is not to demonstrate that we somehow have it all figured out and then expect perfection from them.
The point is to share with our kids how we worked through this particular weakness (not being thankful) and explain that we still sometimes have difficulty being grateful even now.
Doing this allows them to see that we are real and that the same God who helps us through our difficulties can help them too.
4. Make Your Child Aware of the Needs Around Them
We often share with our children stories we read or hear about others in need. We pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child each year, read through the Prayer Point we receive every few months in the mail from Samaritan’s Purse and donate as a family to many organizations close to our hearts. We serve meals at a local feeding ministry.
I think it’s also good to note that as we show our children that others have needs, that we remind them that the people in need aren’t necessarily unhappy, because “stuff” doesn’t make you happy.
It’s simply that we want to bless them by helping to meet their physical and spiritual needs when we have been given the means to do so. It helps my children to recognize where they find true joy!
While we don’t want to use this as a guilt trip, as in “be happy about eating brussel sprouts because lots of little kids have no food at all”, my husband and I really do believe that informing and educating our kids about the needs of people in our own community and around the world can make a positive impact on their lives and teach them how to have a servant’s heart.
Thankfulness comes from recognizing our blessings but also from seeing that we are incredibly privileged, whether we are monetarily rich or poor, whether we live in a big house or a small one, and whether or not we can afford exciting vacations to tropical destinations.
Rather than raising kids who feel entitled and sorry for themselves because they can’t have whatever they want, we as parents can help them turn their thoughts to needs that they can meet for other people and allow them to use their creativity and energy in a Christ-like way.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
Need some ideas? I share several specific ways that you can inspire your kids to serve others in my post How Young Kids can Serve Others at Christmas Time and 5 Ways to Serve Others Even When You Have Young Children.
5. Talk to Your Children about Appreciating What they Already Have
Having “too much stuff” is a big part of why our children can sometimes become ungrateful. They have so much that they don’t appreciate what they are privileged to have. Gifts given on special occasions mean more when kids aren’t constantly provided with whatever they want, whenever they want it.
Much patience, self-control and diligence have been learned in our house when, for example, we have our children earn a reward for doing some chores (apart from the daily chores they do as part of the family). Persistence and hard work pay off and that is something I want to instill in my children (as well as remind myself of often!).
Proverbs 17:22 is a fantastic verse for demonstrating the value of thankfulness: A joyful heart is good medicine but a broken spirit dries up the bones. NASB
Or, as the ICB version says, A happy heart is like good medicine. But a broken spirit drains your strength.
When we have a spirit of discontent, it drains us of true happiness. We’re constantly looking for something else to fulfill our needs. But joy is our inheritance from God–He is the giver of this virtue! Practicing daily thanksgiving draws us closer to our loving God and cultivates this joyful spirit.
6. Have a Conversation About “Gratefulness” Scriptures During Times of Peace and Calm
Learning what the Bible says about who God is, what He has done for us and what our response can be to that kindness is a key tool of motivating thankfulness.
I have been guilty in the past of “yelling” Bible verses at my children: “Be KIND to one another!” I say emphatically with my voice raised. That isn’t really a great use of the principle of sharing Scripture, is it? Ha!
As Christian parents, we want to use Scripture as a teaching tool, not a scolding technique.
And really what has worked for us is to talk about verses on thankfulness and gratitude during times when there is NOT conflict. It seems like our kids remember it better that way and are much more open to listening to what we are trying to tell them!
I have to remember to give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in my children’s hearts. Maybe you need that reminder too! It can get frustrating when we feel like nothing is happening but then a moment comes when our children stop and recognize their own selfishness and seek to handle things in a better way.
Even though the whining and complaining will never completely come to an end (I still do it and I’m a grown woman!), there is success in these simple ways of teaching our children the value of gratefulness:
- Giving gentle reminders of the blessings and gifts God has given us
- Creating opportunities to share those blessings with others
- Digging into God’s Word and pursuing the joy Jesus offers
All of these intentional practices go a long way in helping our child understand the great value of a thankful heart!
You may also like: God Makes Me Grateful: 10 Lessons on Thanksgiving for Families