Cultivating an Attitude of THANKFULNESS in Your Children

Cultivating an ATTITUDE of Thankfulness in Your Children

I received a facebook message with a question recently that got me thinking about thankfulness in our children. I’ll paste the question here:

So, I had a long day and stopped and got a milkshake for myself on the way home. My son cried because I didn’t get him anything. He’s talked about it all afternoon, and just brought it up again saying “I want icecream. Why can’t I have your milkshake- it’s just sitting in the freezer.” I told him it’s mine and I’m allowed to treat myself sometimes and he says, “You always treat yourself, you always get coffee, and I want ice cream!” I don’t think he will be getting a cone the next time we go. He’s so spoiled it’s made him selfish. He does not handle me getting something without getting him something. How do you teach your kids to be thankful?

Ah. Thankfulness. 

It’s one of those characteristics that must be developed in each one of us…cause we all kinda want what makes US happy more than we want to be THANKFUL. 🙂

The Bible puts it this way:

1 Thessalonians 5:18: “ In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

Give thanks in EVERY THING?

Children struggle with thankfulness. (But let’s be honest–Mommies and Daddies do, too!)

Those perfectly formed, delightfully precious, and sweet little babies quickly grow into toddlers and preschoolers who naturally focus on self-gratification.  Turning the hearts of our children towards thankfulness takes purposeful, decisive work! We should not be frustrated that our children choose selfishness, but rather seek opportunities to teach thankfulness.

The wise parent will embrace the opportunity to cultivate an attitude of THANKFULNESS in their children. 

I’m not saying anything you don’t already know, right? I mean, if you’ve been a parent for very long, you’ve witnessed the squabble over toys, the fussing over the favorite sippy cup, or the whining over not getting their absolutely have to have it  RIGHT NOW or I’m going to make you wish you’d never brought me along favorite cereal at the grocery store. RIGHT? 🙂

Do we have to just sit back and HOPE our children someday wake up thankful in all things

Or can we cultivate this attitude of thankfulness in our children?

Here are five key ways we work on cultivating an attitude of thankfulness with our large family. 

  1. Start young with verbalizing thankfulness. Toddlers aren’t likely to feel thankful just yet, and that’s okay. 🙂 But they can learn to say “thank you” whenever they are given something or someone serves them. Teach them to say “thank you” the same way you teach them any other skill! Repitition and patience are the keys here. Once you know your little one CAN say thank you (Our Titus is 14 months and can say his own little version of it already.) OUTLAST them if necessary until they say it every time you ask them to say it. Be consistent in the baby and toddler stage with saying “Thank you” as you’re setting the stage for a thankful attitude later. 
  2. Don’t give your little ones everything they want. I realize this should go without saying, but just last week, we were eating in a restaurant and I was shocked by what I observed. A family with 2 young children (a girl around 2, and a boy around 5) came into the restaurant. As they ordered their food at the register, the children both picked up a drink from the display in front of them. The mom told the children, “We are going to get ONE drink and share, okay?” She took both drinks away and chose a white-colored drink. She handed it to the little boy, and he smiled excitedly. Meanwhile, the 2 year old girl had begun to climb up the display, trying to reach the red-colored drink. The mom put her down and repeated, “We are going to get ONE drink, this white one, and share, okay?” The little girl threw herself down on her bottom and began to kick her feet. The mom repeated herself one more time, as the girl began to scream for the red drink. Then she reached down and TOOK THE WHITE DRINK FROM THE LITTLE BOY’S HAND and put it back. He started to get upset, and she got right in his face and said, “Don’t you dare fight me on this. YOU just got new shoes. Let her have the red drink.” She reached for the red drink and handed it to the tantruming little girl. The little girl stood up smugly, with her red drink in her hands, and smiled. The little boy walked away with tears streaming down his face. Parents, you will never cultivate an attitude of thankfulness in your children if you give them everything they want. It is okay to allow your children to be occasionally disappointed, to wait for their special turn, or to do without for awhile:)
  3. Verbalize thankfulness frequently. Don’t expect children to be thankful automatically, especially when they are young. Teach them by your example, and start in your home. When we get finished with a good meal, my husband will loudly say, “Thank you, Mommy, for working so hard on this meal!” The children naturally repeat him. When my husband pays money for us to have a special treat (like a trip to the zoo or ice cream), I loudly verbalize, “Thank you, Daddy, for this awesome treat! Children, isn’t it awesome that your Daddy chose to give us this blessing?” They begin to copy my words and attitude, and the entire van is full of “THANK YOU, DADDY!!!” When I work hard to make a special dessert and the children naturally want to dive into it when I haven’t even sat down yet, my husband will cheerfully say, “WOW! Mommy worked hard to make an awesome dessert! Look at Mommy’s face. She looks tired. Let’s wait for her to take the first bite before we eat this yummy dessert.” When grandparents bless us with gifts, we verbalize thankfulness for them (and with them), like this, “Ethan, Grandpa sacrificed his hard-earned money to give you this special thing! We need to thank him for doing this!” Then we walk with the child and offer thanks. Teach your child to be thankful by being thankful yourself and openly verbalizing it. 
  4. Serve your children with JOY. Maybe you weren’t expecting this point, but as my children have grown older, I have found this point to be one of the most important ones for cultivating thankfulness! We love to serve our children. We put them first often. I offer them the last piece of cake, and buy them new clothing before buying for myself. I will see them struggling with a job I’ve asked them to do and willingly take the job from them and finish it. (I know, I know. Some of you authoritative parents just took a giant GASP and are now in complete shock. lol. Please hear me out before tuning me out.) I have found that the more I joyfully serve and openly verbalize with my children about my service (that looks like this…”Oh, there’s only one piece of treat left. Mommy wants YOU to have it, because I love to serve you.” or “I know I asked you to fold this laundry, but why don’t you go enjoy the movie with the other children and I will finish it FOR you.”), the more they become thankful and serve others with joy! It’s true! If we’re serving our children with a grudging spirit, complaining about the work load, or sighing and acting irritated all the time, what do we expect THEM to do but copy us? Likewise, if we serve with joy (all the while teaching them to serve others as well), we will begin to see a joyful, thankful attitude in return. Before long, your children will be noticing when YOU are tired and offering to serve YOU. 
  5. Continually acknowledge that all of our blessings AND trials come directly from the Lord. A truly thankful attitude comes from the contentment in knowing that all of our lives are in God’s hands. We can trust Him (and give thanks in EVERY thing!) when we fully believe that He is in control. What is your response when blessings rain down on your family? Do you acknowledge GOD’S handiwork and thank Him in front of your children? What about when the trials rain down and you can’t see your hand in front of your face through the darkness? Do you still thank Him then? Our children will never see Jesus in all things and learn to trust Him if WE do not continually SHOW Him to them! Openly thank God for the blessings AND trials of life in front of your children. I remember my dad being very hesitant to ever share financial details with his children (I think his goal was to keep us feeling secure). I have found that when we carefully share the ups and downs in life WITH OUR CHILDREN, they are strengthened in their own faith and encouraged to be always thankful. 
This hangs in our living room to continually remind us to "give thanks in EVERY thing".
This hangs in our living room to continually remind us to “give thanks in EVERY thing”.

Just one more personal illustration on this topic, as it hits close to home. Johanna (adopted at 14 from an orphanage in China) came home with a most unthankful attitude. 🙂 She was like a willful 2 year old, expecting to be served and to get her way, fighting against any and all kinds of unselfishness. We worked and worked (and worked!) on cultivating an attitude of thankfulness in her. First we role-played, then we expected verbal thanks, then we outlasted the refusal to say “thank you” about a million times. We served and loved and gave over and over again, all the while teaching and verbalizing thankfulness. I’m not going to lie, some days I thought we’d never get there. 🙂 But, those baby steps led to baby progress and eventually we have what happened this weekend: Saturday was my birthday, and it fell right in the middle of an amazing missions conference in which I was royally spoiled. One of the ladies in the church owns a boutique and gave me 2 bags full of lovely new clothes. Several people gave me gift cards for shopping, and the pastors’ wife and a sweet staff member blessed me with a new purse and wallet! By the time my family birthday party rolled around on Saturday, I had a whole PILE of new treasures. 🙂 After I opened my presents, I was sorting through everything on my bed, when Johanna walked in. She stood there for a moment, silently looking at everything. I know special days can be a trigger for Johanna’s PTSD, so I gently put my arm around her and said, “Johanna, are you struggling with jealousy because Mommy got new things? It’s okay to feel a little sad when someone else gets presents.” She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Oh, NO, Mommy. I’m not jealous at all. I’m just so overwhelmed.” The tears began to fall as she said, “I’m just SO thankful that you got so many blessings!” 

Don’t give up, weary parent. Keep cultivating that attitude of thankfulness in your children. 

With you on the journey, 


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One thought on “Cultivating an Attitude of THANKFULNESS in Your Children

  1. This was such a blessing. I struggle so often with making the choice to be thankful in front of my child. He is only thirteen months, but he needs a thankful mommy even now! I will be referring to this post often, as well as to the verses you quoted! Thank you!

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