014 – 5 Ways To Instill Gratitude In Your Children

What parent doesn’t wish their children would demonstrate more gratitude? What dad doesn’t want their kids to better appreciate what he is working so hard to provide? What mom doesn’t long for the day their child offers a sincere gesture of thanks for the countless hours dedicated to the wellbeing of the children? The desire for gratitude in our children is universal among parents. Equally universal is the feeling that “the kids of today” just aren’t appreciative. You know the thought process – kids today just have so much stuff that they aren’t appreciative of any of it. The sentiment in that thought process is fairly accurate, however it has nothing to do with “the kids of today”.

The lack of gratitude is rooted in the fact that gratitude is not innate in any of us. Our children are born with the same lack of gratitude with which we were born. It relates to the sinful and fallen nature that plagues our entire life on earth. The lack of gratitude could be compared to a child’s selfishness. Any parent with more than one child can testify to selfishness among their children. It’s inevitable that sharing of toys will become a source of contention, maybe even an all out fight. Parents don’t teach their children how to be selfish, they just know innately how to be selfish. It is one of the responsibilities of parents to teach our children to share and be selfless. For more details on selfishness and selflessness, check out these previous posts. Likewise, children will not demonstrate a spirit of gratitude unless we, as their parent, instill it in them. So let’s examine 5 ways that we can instill gratitude in our children.

Exhibit Gratitude

If you’ve been a parent for longer than a week, you are well aware of the reality that our children exhibit our behavior. Sure, we should teach them well through words, but we must ensure that our actions reflect our words. Children learn much more from watching our actions than they ever will from our lectures. Also, children are great discerners of hypocrisy. When our children recognize that our actions do no conform to our lectures, they typically discredit our lecture. So teach your children all the lessons, Bible studies, and benefits of gratitude that your busy schedule will allow. But know that you will have to exhibit gratitude on a consistent basis in order to have any chance of overcoming the innate lack of gratitude in your children.

Give To The Needy

The principle here is simple, those in real need will almost always exhibit sincere gratitude for what they receive. By allowing your children to participate in your giving to the needy, your children will witness first hand what sincere gratitude looks like. My wife, Jennifer, does a wonderful job of involving our children in giving to the needy. Among other things she does, last year she created gift bags that completely stuffed gallon sized ziploc bags. My wife and children packed dozens of bags with the bare necessities that a person without a home would likely lack. Basic supplies such a toothbrush and paste, a hair brush, wet wipes, bottle of clean water, and snacks were just a few items placed in their gift bags. Our family then ensured we have a few bags in our vehicles with us at all times in order that we could share them with anyone that might need one. Even through the back windows of our vehicle, our children could see sincere gratitude expressed in the face of those in need when they received even a small bag of necessities.

Give To Others

At first glance, this seems to be a duplicate of the previous method. The difference here is that we demonstrate giving to others, regardless if they aren’t in great need. This will further instill a spirit of giving in our children. That spirit of giving will likewise grow a spirit of gratitude in our children. Additionally, giving to those with little or no real needs will provide a comparison for our children. When coupled with giving to the needy, our children will be able to discern sincere gratitude. It is very likely that those in great need will exhibit a more sincere spirit of gratitude. As parents, we understand our children’s ability to “fake it”. We all want our children to understand real, sincere gratitude in order that they don’t “fake it”.

Leave The Comfort Zone

Our children make the assumption that every other child in every other home experiences life just as they do. Our children accept life in our home as normal and typical of everyone else. You see this with children that grow up in the worst of home conditions – they assume every child hides in the closet in fear of a drunken and raging father. Also, you see this with children that grow up with a silver spoon in their mouth – they assume every child will be preordering the latest Apple gadget to hit the market. It is important to get our children out of their comfort zone, out of their room, away from the television and computer, and into the environments of others. My daughter and I recently returned from our second missions trip to the Dominican Republic – you can read about the trip here. In trips such a this, my daughter witnesses first hand just how differently others experience life. She recognizes that not every child has the luxuries that she enjoys. Recognition of the fundamental differences will foster a greater sense of gratitude.


“We are from the government and we’re here to help.” I know, very few actually look to the government for real help. But in this case, this old joke rings true. The Thanksgiving holiday was established in order to afford families the time to reflect and give thanks for blessings in our lives. Now modern education has totally rewritten the history of this holiday and changed the subject of our thanks, but nonetheless we have a national holiday that stilled entitled Thanksgiving. Far too often we neglect this opportunity and turn the day into a day of gluttony and football. As you celebrate Thanksgiving next week, be intentional to make this a time of reflection and thanksgiving among your family. I recently listened to a series of podcasts from Family Life Today on the subject of the Thanksgiving holiday, I highly recommend these episodes and have provided a link below. In those episodes you will find great ideas and resources for inserting gratitude into your Thanksgiving celebration.

Remembering the Pilgrims

The Real First Thanksgiving

Barbara Rainey on Gratitude

Thankful Family Life, Part 1

Thankful Family Life, Part 2

How do you exhibit gratitude in front of your children? How do you involve your children in giving to others? Are you doing anything intention to get your children involved in the life of others? What are your plans for the Thanksgiving holiday? Share you thoughts in the comments below.

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