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An Attitude of Gratitude

December 26th, 2007 / 4 Comments

“I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas!”
“Is that all??”

Did you hear that at your house after all the Christmas presents were opened?

How do we teach our children to have a thankful heart instead of being discontent with what they have?

“I am disappointed that I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas, but I am not complaining. I have a lot of other things I am thankful for.”

I was very proud of my 12-year-old daughter for saying that after we opened all our Christmas presents.

Teaching our children to have an attitude of gratitude is one of the most important values we want our children to learn. Kids who are ungrateful are no fun to live with. Don’t we feel personally offended when our children are not thankful for all that we’ve provided for them? It’s like a slap on our faces when they complain about what they don’t have. Not only do they irritate us with their complaining, but my concern is that they ultimately hurt themselves by not being able to enjoy the life they have.

Can you think of adults who are discontent with their lives? I’m sure we know people who frequently grumble about what they do not have – they wish they had a bigger house, a better car, a nicer body, the list goes on. Would we want our children to grow up like that? Teaching our children to have an attitude of gratitude not only makes life easier for us, it really helps them to be better functioning adults in the future. It will affect their relationships with people and with their future spouses.

Something interesting I learned in raising my children

When my first two children were young, my husband and I just started a business. We were a young couple just starting off and were not able to afford much for our two kids. I remember not spending the extra money for a Happy Meal with the toy for them at McDonald’s, opting for just a hamburger and sharing an order of fries.

When our youngest daughter was born, we were more comfortable with our finances. I was able to buy the little extras for her. Now, wouldn’t you think she would be less demanding since she already got more?

But the opposite is true. My two older children who are now in their teens are actually much more content. They don’t ask for much, and they are happy with what they have while my youngest asks for this and that.

When we are raising our children, it would seem that if my child wants something, such a a toy, he would be thankful if I give it to him. We think that he should be satisfied with the toy and not ask for anymore toys for a while. The more he has, the more content he should be. In practice however, the opposite seems to be true.

Our human nature is just not born to be naturally content. Just look at ourselves. If we rent an apartment, we wish we can afford to buy at least a condo. Once we buy the condo, we want a house with a yard, then we wish we had a swimming pool, a bigger room, better furniture. If we were honest as our children are, we would find ourselves saying, “Is that all? I want more.”

How to encourage a heart of thankfulness

First, examine ourselves to see what kind of attitude we are projecting. Are we content with our house, our clothes, our hair?? Are we expressing thankfulness to God for all we already possess? Are we making use of what we have, just like we tell our children to play with the toys they already have in their room?

Second, merely lecturing our kids to be thankful to their Aunt Martha for the sweater does not work! People need a tangible experience to associate with a lesson before it becomes real. Don’t waste your breath, and don’t be surprised that your children have not all of a sudden become grateful people after a heated lecture from you.

Instead, try a few of these positive ways to encourage thankfulness:

1. Each night, when my daughter and I say our bedtime prayers, I ask her to start by thanking God for two specific things about her day. Some days when all seemed to have gone wrong, we are still able to thank God for our home, our full stomachs, our bed. Prayers of thanksgiving put our minds back in perspective by focusing on all we have. Don’t take those daily provisions for granted.

2. Do not allow discontent to grow. If I hear my children lamenting about what someone else has and they don’t, I gently ask them, “What do you have that someone else does not?” Remember, no lecturing.

3. If my children want a particular toy, I tell them to devise a plan to earn that toy. Hey, money doesn’t grow on trees, and things are not handed to them on a silver platter. They can learn to appreciate how hard is it to obtain a toy, thus they can appreciate what they already have.

4. Stay away from the mall! Seeing display after display of beautiful things you don’t have festers that feeling of discontent in the best of us. Who needs to be constantly reminded of what I don’t have?

5. VeggieTales has a great DVD about being thankful. In Madam Blueberry we find out why Madam Blueberry is so blue though she seems to have everything! When my children shows signs of discontent, I merely have to say, “Oh, are you looking a little Blue today?” No need for a lecture.

6. See the bigger world of need around us by watching something from World Vision on Youtube once in a while. Out of sight, out of mind, they say. We forget the needs of the world when we don’t force ourselves to confront it once in a while. It will motivate us to drop the greed in our hearts and help someone else.

7. Spend time with your children instead of buying them toys to play with. That teaches them the value of relationships over material gifts. After my daughter said she has a lot of other things to be thankful for, she said, “I have my family and that’s more important.”

Children are very capable of understanding many deep concepts. We need to lead them down the right path by showing them that having fun as a family, going camping, biking to the park, playing board games together, are really more important than anything they can buy.

Photo by Andréia

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  1. […] me this year in promoting a positive attitude of thankfulness in our family. Make a difference this year in contributing joy to the world. Let it begin with […]

  2. Thank you for writing such an insightful and important article. It’s not about how many toys we can buy for our children.

    My daughter is only 8 months old, and I have learned so much. A smile, a certain gesture, holding her a certain way, etc… all of these things cost $0 and it means the world to her.

  3. That’s so true, Elliott. In the end, I think our children rather have our attention and time. Those actually do cost us more, doesn’t it?

  4. […] if I told you that this gift teaches values, is not wasteful, retains it’s worth, and helps alleviate the problem of poverty all at the […]


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