As adults, it’s still difficult to always be thankful. It’s easy to get caught up in our daily routine, and forget to stop for a moment to be grateful for the things we have.
When we’re rushing around in our busy lives, we can become complacent. We rush from school to football practice to grab a quick dinner, without stopping to be grateful for the teachers, coaches, and cooks.
We all do it. And we could all use help in the area of gratitude.
Have you noticed that studies and research are all starting to show that gratitude is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factor in long-term happiness?1
Counting your blessings is actually one of the first methods used to treat or prevent depression. It’s also one of the first go-tos in military suicide prevention training.
I’ve compiled some ideas to help teach our children this before they take things for granted. We’re all imperfect human beings (yes, even your sweet little angel), so we will always needs to be reminded to be thankful, but the younger the idea is instilled, the more natural gratitude becomes.
1. Start Small
Gratitude doesn’t mean taking an hour out of your day to name a million things you’re grateful for; it just means remembering to say thanks for everything you have. And while you’re not going to remember everything you have, you have to start with something.
Enter: the dinner table habit.
Our family adopted a habit before dinner every night. We each say one thing we’re thankful for, before we eat. This isn’t a time to criticize the things children are grateful for; it’s a time to teach your kids to be thankful for the different things in their life. If they say they’re grateful for their mom and dad, encourage them and reinforce how nice it is that they appreciate you. If they say they’re thankful for candy, just be thankful that they’re thankful for something.
You can use this method upon waking up each day, before bed, right after school, etc., but you don’t want to bombard them with saying thanks a thousand times a day.
Start small, and add some gratitude moments slowly. Your kids will actually enjoy this from the start, if it doesn’t feel like a chore. Now, if we ever forget to do this before we eat, we’re quickly reminded.
2. Be Grateful
Your children see what you do before they hear what you say.
“More is caught than taught.”
If you’re not grateful, your children aren’t going to be grateful.
A recent study showed that our level of gratitude is one of the most important factors in our children’s level of gratitude.2 They’re simply proving what we all know to be true in our heart: actions speak louder than words.
It’s ironic that another study showed how parents are frustrated when they’re kids don’t express gratitude,3 yet we so often go through our days complaining and not being grateful for anything.
You must model the gratitude habit. When your kids hear your language of gratitude, they’re more likely to imitate it. Even if they seem annoyed by how much you express gratitude, the habit will rub off.
Watch what you’re doing, before you look too closely at what your kids are doing.
3. Model Contentment
A lack of gratitude comes from a lack of contentment.
While complacency can be bad, contentment is healthy. When you’re content, you can appreciate where you are and what you have, instead of wanting more. This is another area that we, as parents, must model.
If you’re constantly talking about wanting a nicer house, car, job, or anything of the sort, then your kids are going to learn that happiness and contentment is always one more thing or situation away from where you are.
Teach your child how to be happy right now with what they have. This is such an important lesson for us to learn too, so make it easy on your kids by teaching it at a young age.
The materialistic chasing of the next great thing is killing gratitude across the world.
4. Teach the Importance of Relationship
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”Colossians 3:15
Gratitude is a huge part of Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, and you’ll find the same in the teachings of Jesus. Gratitude is often reflected in our relationships, and thankfulness is often taught alongside relationship.
Studies show that relationships and gratitude are connected.4
Whether it’s a relationship with God or people, social interaction with like-minded individuals, is good for gratitude. We can teach our kids this by modeling what relationships should look like within our family, and with close friends.
Materialism kills gratitude, and relationship kills materialism. When your kids value people more than the acquisition of stuff, not only will they be happier, but they will experience more gratitude.
5. Show Your Kids True Poverty
You’re going to seriously annoy your kids by constantly saying things like “you should be thankful for your food; there are kids in Africa that haven’t eaten in days,” and it’s not going to teach them to be grateful. It’s going to teach them to be annoyed at the very children you’re trying to make them feel sympathy for.
That being said, if you show them what poverty really looks like, they may just start listening when you compare them to kids who actually have it rough.
Mission trips are great for this, but you don’t have to look far to find poverty. Your town, or the closest major city, is far enough. Drive around and show your children how good they really have it. Teach the importance of caring for the poor and the homeless. It’s not about feeling sorry for people who are worse off, it’s simply about caring.
Likewise, you don’t want your kids to feel guilty for the life they have, but you do want them to feel sympathy for the people who aren’t doing so well.
Your children will likely feel so much sympathy that they will want to help, which leads me to my final point…
6. Instill a Giving Heart
I saved the best for last. If you can instill the desire to give in your child’s heart, half the battle is won.
God loves a cheerful giver. Giving blesses the giver as much as the recipient.
When your child starts to become focused on others, not just on himself, gratitude will follow.
There are several ways to teach your child to be a cheerful giver:
- Involve your children in your giving. Show them how you give, whether to church or charity, and explain how happy it makes you. Show them that you are a cheerful giver.
- Take it easy on their giving. While it’s important to teach your child to give, don’t force it. State your case for why they should give and let them make the final decision.
- Give in more ways than one. Your child may love giving their time, but be a little reluctant to give money. Or vice versa. Teach them to be open to other forms of giving by focusing on what they enjoy. Don’t force a specific style of giving, cultivate the form that they enjoy, and it will branch out to other forms of giving.
- Go where they can see their giving. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, and take your child along. They may just fall in love with giving and serving others.
If you’re a cheerful giver, your children will be cheerful givers, but it may take some guidance along the way.
If you’re modeling gratitude and thankfulness, your children will follow in your footsteps.
But remember, you have to model it.
Further Bible Study
Further Book Reading
- Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch
- How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World by Dave Stone
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- Park & Perterson. (2006, September). Character Strengths and Happiness among Young Children: Content Analysis of Parental Descriptions. Journal of Happiness Studies, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 323–341.
- William A. Rothenberg, Andrea M. Hussong, Hillary A. Langley, Gregory A. Egerton, Amy G. Halberstadt, Jennifer L. Coffman, Irina Mokrova & Philip R. Costanzo. (2017). Grateful parents raising grateful children: Niche selection and the socialization of child gratitude. Applied Developmental Science, 21:2, 106-120.
- Amy G. Halberstadt et al. (2016). Parents’ understanding of gratitude in children: A thematic analysis. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Volume 36, Pages 439-451.
- Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8(3), 425-9.