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If you’re here as a parent, looking for how to raise grateful kids, you’re on the right path. Being intentional is the first step.
Grateful kids experience more joy in life and are a joy to be around. But helping a child to be grateful is not easy. Gratitude isn’t natural, it must be cultivated.
Gratitude vs Thankfulness
First, let’s start by distinguishing being thankful from having gratitude. Saying the words, “thank you,” does not make you grateful. It may not even mean you’re thankful! The only thing we can be sure of, if we hear a child say “thank you,” is that they have been taught to be polite.
Raising grateful kids requires more than just training a child to say “thank you.”
A child might say thank you all the time, but may not feel or even mean the words at all. Being thankful is a self-focused feeling. It means feeling pleased, relieved, or according to Merriam-Webster, being “conscious of benefit received.”
Having gratitude means doing more than being thankful. It also means valuing the kindness of the giver. Gratitude turns the focus to the one who gives. It may even mean appreciating the effort and thoughtfulness of the giver over the gift.
How do I make my child more grateful?
So now that we have a clear definition of what gratitude is and means, how do we get our kids to be more grateful!? Instilling gratitude starts with modeling gratitude.
When your kids are old enough, talk to your kids about gratitude. Explain to them that being grateful is something that you value. It’s also an important part of living in the way that Jesus lived.
Of course the Bible is full of lessons in regards to gratitude, but I love all that can be gleaned from the “laborers in the vineyard” parable Jesus shared.
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
There was a man who owned some land. One morning, the man went out very early to hire some people to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay the workers one silver coin for working that day. Then he sent them into the vineyard to work.
About nine o’clock the man went to the marketplace and saw some people standing around, doing nothing. So he said to them, ‘If you go and work in my field, I will pay you what your work is worth.’ So they went to work in the vineyard.
At about twelve, three, and five o’clock he went and hired more people, who had no work, to work in his vineyard. He said he would pay them “whatever is right.”
At the end of the day, the owner of the field had all the workers paid starting with the ones who were hired last. Everyone got paid silver coin, so the workers who were hired first thought they would be paid more than the others. When they got their silver coin, they complained.
The owner said to one of them, “Friend, I am being fair with you. You agreed to work for one silver coin. So take your pay and go. If I want to give the man who was hired last the same pay I gave you. Why are you jealous because I am generous?”
(ERV, with some edits for brevity)
This parable can teach us and our kids a lot about what it means to be grateful. Here are 5 tips from this parable on how to raise grateful kids.
How to raise appreciative children
1. Be a good example.
Demonstrate gratitude. Avoid complaining or talking about all that you are owed. Be careful of how you speak to your kids.
I’ve caught myself saying, “How many times have I told you?..You drive me crazy…I’m sick and tired of…” This kind of talk does not correct or teach, it’s complaining.
2. Set Clear Expectations.
The owner told everyone that he would pay them one silver coin or “what is right.” The workers did what was agreed upon and so did the owner. The first workers hired did not do anything more than what they had agreed to, so they should not have expected more pay.
3. Help them label gifts and blessings.
As anyone who has struggled with unemployment knows, just to have a job that pays is a gift. Every one of the people who were hired that day started out no work and one less silver coin. They were gifted with an opportunity to earn a good wage. Help your child label their gifts with a gratitude journal.
4. Avoid Comparison.
The people hired at the end of the day needed work and money, too. The workers who were hired first compared themselves to the people hired last. It only made them angry.
Instead, they could have been happy for the people hired later to have also been found. They could’ve celebrated the generosity of the owner who sought them out and hired them.
It’s not uncommon for people to attempt to find gratitude by comparing to those who have less than.. those who are “starving and cold” over there, so “finish your dinner.” Help your children to see those in need without comparing. This kind of comparison can create unhealthy biases, barriers, and stereotypes about people who struggle.
5. Teach them to earn and care for their things.
Teach them that having things requires effort by having them earn and care for things given to them. No one got a silver coin for doing nothing.
Raising grateful kids in an entitled world
Entitlement doesn’t look good on anybody. I think two mistaken beliefs from the world that drive entitlement in children.
- The more wealth I have, the more valuable I am.
- I can’t get things for myself, so the only way to get what I want is to demand it.
Fight entitlement with truth and empowerment
Remind your kids that they are valuable for who they are, not what they have. And don’t show favoritism towards the wealthy (James 2:1-13).
Empower your kids to provide for themselves at every opportunity. Do they want a new toy? Offer them the opportunity to earn it.
I know I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating. There are times when life will appear unfair.
But God doesn’t give in to our comparisons or surrender to our sense of fairness, but because He is generous and knows what we need and when we need it. Most often, our sense of what’s “fair” is rooted in comparison of what we think someone else has. Truthfully, we don’t ever know the whole story of what’s going on in someone else’s life.God doesn't give under compulsion, but because He is generous. Click To Tweet
And so we should do the same with our children. Don’t worry about satisfying their sense of what’s fair, don’t even pretend to. It rewards complaint and entitlement.
Instead help your kids to see that you give willingly according to what each one needs and from a place of generosity.
Some final thoughts on how to raise grateful kids
If you take one thing away from this post, I hope it’s that gratitude is about honoring another. It’s about turning our attention towards the giver and choosing to honor their effort and kindness with appreciation.
Gratitude is not just being thankful to have received something. It’s not just about politeness, though that has it’s own value too. When we come to God with gratitude, it brings into a proper posture of humility, unity with Christ, and often leads to praise.
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Let me leave you with this final verse of encouragement. It may be a helpful one to memorize as you continue to pursue how to raise grateful kids.
“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:17).
This post includes excerpts from the Bible study discussion guide:
“Parenting in Christ: Lessons from the Parables”
How do you demonstrate gratitude in your home?
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