little-boy-thumbs-up

Not too long ago a young mom wrote me asking if I could give some suggestions on how she could teach her children to be grateful.

She wrote:

“I love presents. I love to give them and receive them. But it saddens me when I see people, especially children, who expect them … and more. How do I teach my children to appreciate whatever they get and not always expect more?”

I can relate to her observations, and I understand her desire to teach her children to be grateful and not always expect more. I appreciate that she wants to train her children to honor God. I see children all around me who are ungrateful and want more stuff. In fact, I see it in my own home at times!

I also see it in my own heart!

When my daughter was about three years old, we were at one of the grandparent’s homes exchanging Christmas gifts. Brianna would unwrap a gift, look at it, and then look up to see what was next. I didn’t like that. I wanted her to show gratefulness. I didn’t want her focus to be the presents, or for her to want more.

We ended up taking her into another room briefly to talk with her about it. The poor girl! All she knew was that there were tons of beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree and Grandma kept handing them to her. She wanted to unwrap them. It was fun, Grandma didn’t mean any harm, she didn’t want to encourage my child to be selfish. She just loved giving her granddaughter gifts.

A few years later we met a precious lady who fell in love with our children. She would drop by and visit us often. Most of the time she had gifts for the children. She was an older, single lady, and didn’t really have anyone to fuss over, so she chose my children.

We grew to love her, not because of the gifts she gave us, but because of her heart and the love that motivated the gifts. At times I secretly wished she wouldn’t do so much for the children, because I was afraid they were being “indulged”. I was afraid that it would make them self-centered and ungrateful.

One day she came to the door and Caleb (who was about 6 years old) ran to the door, flung it open, and yelled, “Where’s my present?” Well, I almost fell over from a heart attack! I was horrified! I took Caleb back to my room and had a little talk with him about the importance of … something! I really don’t remember all that I said to him. Then he came back out and quietly apologized. The lady just laughed and said it was no big deal.

Poor Caleb didn’t know what hit him! He hadn’t meant any harm. He just knew that whenever this precious woman came over she brought him a gift so he thought he’d ask her where it was this time.

What I have found is that we are all in a process of growth and maturity. These huge concepts that we so desire our children to learn are the very concepts that are still becoming a reality in us. They are areas that we are all still maturing in–and will be until we die.

What can we do to help our children learn how to be grateful? How can we teach them to not have expectations, not be greedy, and not always want more? Well, I don’t have all the answers. As I said before, God is still working some of that ugliness out of my own heart. But I think that there are things we can be doing to help them along in the learning/growing process.

In Deuteronomy 6, Israel was told to teach their children diligently “when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise …” It should be happening as we “sit, walk, lie down, and rise up!” That is our “living and breathing!”

We can teach in many different ways. First of all, I think that we need to teach by example. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:

  • Am I a grateful adult? Am I grateful for what I have? Am I content with the house we have, the yard we have the paycheck my husband gets, and the car we have?
  • How do I show gratefulness? Do I write thank you notes? Do I serve and give of myself without expecting it to be reciprocated?
  • Do I complain? Am I critical of others? Do I complain about our church, the people in it, or about our pastor?
  • Do I have expectations? Do I have unrealistic expectations of others? Expectations of my husband, my women friends, my parents, even my children? Do I always feel disappointed about something?
  • Am I striving to live out Philippians 4: 11? “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

And when I fail in these things (and I will!) do I quickly seek forgiveness not only from God, but from my children who have observed my bad example? You see, I do not believe our children will learn what we do not posses ourselves. They watch us. They hear us! Many times they become us!

After I have evaluated my own heart, have acknowledged the truth about myself, and am striving to be an authentic (not perfect) example, how can I encourage my children in these very important areas? By lecturing them? By getting frustrated with them?

Obviously there are some times when we sit down and have those talks, but there are a few things that we try to practice in our home:

When they say, “Thanks Mom for the good dinner!” I will say, “You are welcome, and thank you for being grateful!” If they show gratefulness in another way, or exhibit an attitude of contentment or selflessness, I try to make sure that I affirm them, pointing out what a great job they did and how encouraging it is that God is maturing them. I find when I encourage my children in this way it makes them want to press on in that area where there has been growth.

I have to continue to remind myself that my children are growing. They will not be perfect. They were born with sinful, self-centered hearts just like I was. I need to address their sin, discipline them, and train them, but I have to remember that God will take His time in maturing and growing them. (Just like He has with me!) Some of these concepts may take years to take root and grow to maturity. And that’s okay.

This is the Christian life. It is a process. We can’t expect unregenerate children to have the fruit of the Spirit! So be careful of what you expect from young children.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22

I am also reminded that I must always let my children know that I love and accept them no matter what. Their growth or lack of growth does not determine my approval or love. I love them. Period. When there is evidence of growth, I want to encourage them and let them know that it is seen, but never lead them to think that it gains my approval!

The more this is implemented in our lives, I find that I am enjoying this parenting journey so much more because I am realizing that it is not all up to me!

Finally, I find that it is too easy to judge other parents if we see that their children are not grateful. It is so important that we see other parents and their children through eyes of grace. As I pray for wisdom for my husband and for myself, and that my children would hear what God wants them to hear, I need to be praying the same things for other parents and their children.

Gratefulness is a lifetime lesson and must be cultivated. We can’t expect that little children will have this perfected, when we don’t have it perfected!

{Editor’s Note: We are grateful for Gina’s wisdom and the impact this post has made through the years and wanted to share it anew with our many new MomLife Today readers! We are grateful for you Gina!}