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Training Kids to Be Grateful

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Cultivating gratitude in children begins at home, as we model discipline, patience and intentionality.

A pout settled on my young son’s face. “I wish I had that Rescue Hero guy.” He was watching TV and had just seen a toy he wanted.

While there’s nothing wrong with a child expressing his wants and desires, this kid had just had a birthday party and received over a dozen presents. Plus, we’d spent the previous weekend at a water park.

My boy had more than he needed and much to be grateful for, but he couldn’t see it. That’s when I knew it was time for us to intentionally nurture gratitude in his heart. In this me-centered world, we knew it wouldn’t be easy.

From Home to Heart

In order to cultivate gratefulness in our children, my husband and I had to pay attention to our own habits and the ungrateful messages we were inadvertently sending. It was humbling to admit that our own impatience and discontent sometimes presented the wrong picture to little eyes.

When we focused on what other family members didn’t do instead of what they did do, we communicated a critical spirit. As a family, we needed to commit ourselves to practicing an attitude of gratitude and appreciation 24/7.

In addition, here are five ways we tried to instill gratefulness in our kids:

Allow delayed gratification

One of the best ways we found to battle entitlement was to teach our children to work for things they wanted. We set them up to save for their goals, and they did the rest. This meant we had to resist their pleas to loan them money for something they wanted before they had earned the money.

When we required our kids to earn money to buy a fancier phone than we provided, it allowed them to experience delayed gratification. Taking part in the purchase also gave them a greater sense of ownership, helped them learn the value of a dollar and experience a healthy sense of accomplishment.

Encourage them to think about others

Taking other people for granted is easy to do. When we encouraged our kids to stay connected to their grandparents, aunts, uncles and even family friends and neighbors, we helped them think about someone other than themselves.

When one of our children came home with straight A’s on his report card or won a ballgame, we encouraged him to call his grandparents and share the joy with them. When their aunt was going through a hard time, we had our children draw a picture to send to her. As we helped our kids look beyond themselves, they became more selfless, which led to understanding gratitude and being grateful for what they had.

Count our blessings

We tried to bring up the things we were thankful for as often as possible. An easy way to do this is to incorporate things your children are thankful for into bedtime prayers. As your children learn to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), they will discover a deeper appreciation for the blessings God provides for them on a daily basis.

Another way we did this was through a car game. As we drove, we used the alphabet to share what we appreciated about each other. For the letter A, we might say, “I appreciate how you ask me how I’m feeling.” For B, “I love it when you play ball with me.” And for C, “Thank you for cooking with me.” This fun road game kept our kids thinking about appreciation instead of criticizing each other.

Write thank-you notes

When my children were in preschool, I found some simple fill-in-the-blank thank-you postcards. After Christmas or a birthday, we would help our little ones fill in the name of the person they were thanking and the item they were thankful for.

When they were old enough to write, we would have thank-you note parties a few days after Christmas. We made hot chocolate, served festive cookies, turned on Christmas music and sat around the table writing thank-you notes for gifts we had received from friends and extended family.

In our text-happy culture, taking the time to slow down and write a handwritten note forced our kids to pause and express appreciation in a concrete way. It also reminded them that the things they have were the result of someone else’s generosity.

Say “thank you” daily

As we went about our days, we thanked as many people as we could — the server in the restaurant, the cashier in the grocery store, the bus driver and the person who changed our oil. Saying thanks became second nature.

We also said thank you to one another. We thanked our kids for doing their chores without being asked. My husband and I thanked one another. We realized that the more our children heard “thank you” around our house, the more likely they were to say it when they were out.

A Culture of Thanks

Several years ago I traveled to Tanzania. From my perspective, the folks we spent time with had so little, but their sense of gratitude told a different story. They were quick to say, “I have a roof over my head, food in my belly and a God who loves me.”

How many of us would say the same? I hope and pray the seeds of thankfulness planted in my children’s hearts will grow into full-blown gratitude — first for their Savior and second for those around them.

Jill Savage is the author of 12 books including No More Perfect Kids.

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