3 simple ways to teach children gratitude

3 simple ways to teach children gratitudeAt some point, every home with young children experiences ingratitude. It’s just part of post-Fall childrearing — alongside 2-year-old temper tantrums and 2 a.m. bedtime visits.

I thought about that recently when my two oldest boys (ages 9 and 5) started grumbling as their mom was baking cookies for a special church function.

“You never make these for us!” they complained.

Never mind that the kitchen cabinet was full of other types of cookies they could eat, and that they get desert for virtually meal, and that mom also was busy preparing dinner – a fabulous meal all of us would soon enjoy.

No, they wanted the special cookies – the cookies they’ve never had — and they didn’t want anyone else to have them, either.

They then joined together to whine in unison: It’s not fair!

You can imagine how the subsequent parent-child conversation went. It included stories of starving African children who rarely get a full meal – much less desert and (definitely) not specially baked cookies.

By the time the conversation was over, our children were wishing they had never complained at all. And they could (nearly) point to Africa on a globe.

Of course, it’s easy to criticize my two sons for a moment of ingratitude. If we’re honest, though, we all have moments like that – moments when we lust after our neighbor’s new car, our friend’s new home, or simply the latest-and-greatest Best Buy gadgets. It’s a problem as old as, well, Scripture. When Jesus healed the 10 leapers, only one returned to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19).

How, then, can we instill a spirit of gratitude, thankfulness and contentment in our children? There are lots of ways to do it, but here are three ways to start:

Focus on what you have. And realize you’ll never be satisfied. Those action figures, dolls and video game consoles are all gifts from God (James 1:17), but gifts that that will never truly satisfy us (Proverbs 23:4-5). Consider: Why do we want gifts each Christmas, and then gifts for our birthday, and then gifts again the next Christmas? It’s because “stuff” never brings eternal joy. At best, it brings temporary pleasure. At worst, it distracts us from eternal matters. And eventually, all of it will be sold in a yard sale. I asked my elementary-aged son the other day: When will your Legos bring you so much satisfaction that you’ll stop asking me to buy more of them? “Never,” he responded. He was right.

Focus on what others don’t have. And mourn. While we Americans fret over getting a second television or a third smartphone, much of the world is fretting over the next meal. We have First World “problems.” They have Third World PROBLEMS. Sixty percent of the world lives without toilets or proper sanitation. One-fourth of the world lacks electricity. And about 11 percent (nearly 1 billion people) lives in constant hunger. Each day my children look at a photo on their wall of a Ugandan boy named Caleb, who was born an orphan but now lives in a village sponsored by Christians around the world. It’s a reminder to pray for Caleb. It’s also a reminder that we Americans have been blessed for a reason – and it’s not to buy more stuff.

Focus on what God expects. That is, contentment. If God never gave you another toy – big or small – would you still praise Him? Put another way: Is He enough? One of life’s great ironies is that we chase after temporal things — the stuff that will end up in landfills — but ignore eternal matters – the stuff that will last forever. We’d rather have junk than Jesus. How dumb is that? God wants us to pursue righteousness and godliness (1 Timothy 6:11), but too often, we’re sidetracked in pursuit of the best deals and latest sales. The Apostle Paul said it best: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Here’s a question I often ask myself at the end of each day: Was my day spent pursuing the kingdom of man … or the Kingdom of God?

My 5-year-old son was given two costumes for Christmas – Iron Man and Spider-Man, if you’re curious – but chose to give one to a friend. Why? Because he already had a similar one – albeit tattered — at home. Remember: This is the same son who was whining about cookies just a few days earlier.

We’re making progress.

Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes all 40 college football bowl games — ALL OF THEM. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog? Send him an email: michaelfoust (at) gmail.com. Also, check out the video section

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