I couldn’t believe my ears. Eleven months before my wife and I surprised our kids with an amazing Christmas gift. We gave them Disney annual passes. They flipped out, and we had a blast. However, in the eleventh month of that annual pass we told our kids we were going to Disney. My son’s response, “Disney again? Do we have to?” I couldn’t believe it. I explained to both my kids that going to Disney at all was a privilege many kids would never get the chance to do at all, let alone multiple times in a year. It was an opportunity to explain to them how important it is to be grateful. That was the last time I heard either of them complain. We let our passes expire a month later without renewing and my kids talk about how much they miss it.
Gratitude is a talent and one that must be refined. We must not allow our children to grow up entitled or spoiled. Kids who are cut off from the richness of lives defined by grateful hearts, service, joy, sacrificial love and appreciation for what they have are very shallow indeed. So we need to teach our children to be grateful. Thankful children are able to enjoy the blessings that come their way, even if it’s not much. Kids who don’t know gratitude are seldom satisfied, no matter how much they have. But don’t despair—children (and adults) can be taught. Here are 10 ways to teach your children to be grateful.
1. Say “Grace” before each meal.
Rather than lose its meaning, gratitude habituated through practice takes residence in the soul. Don’t take anything for granted, especially food. “Thanks God,” is foundational to the grateful life.Showing is more powerful than telling.
2. Expose them to reality.
It’s easy to live in a bubble created by media, and the veneer of affluence that separates us from the rest of the world. Take your kids on mission trips to Central America, poverty-stricken Appalachia, a storm-ravaged area or right at home in your community. Showing is more powerful than telling.
3. Be grateful parents.
Kids learn from us 24-7—we don’t get to choose that. So let’s make sure they live with parents who are grateful for what they have, express it frequently, and back that up in the way they live.
4. Do not spoil them.
It’s a fact—kids who have more stuff than they need don’t even like what they have anymore. When parents help feed the ungrateful habit, we sabotage the growth of grace in our children. Think about it.
5. Make them earn stuff.
When kids miss the natural relationship between work and reward, they also lose the connection between good things and pleasure. It’s tough to be grateful when things are acquired unnaturally.
6. Teach them to love God.
God teaches gratitude as a way of life. We can’t teach our kids to be grateful without involving the Source of all we are grateful for.
7. Make sure they sometimes don’t get what they want.
You’re the dad, you’re allowed to manipulate the playing deck for a good cause. Make sure—once in a while—the kids don’t get the cheese.
8. Teach them to serve others.
Drive a weekly “Meals-on-Wheels” route together; serve the homeless; organize a gift drive; share with those who have nothing.
9. Teach them to be generous.
This is the next step. Generosity is not passing along our leftovers. Generosity is giving on a sacrificial level. Real generosity costs something. Real generosity is a huge step toward gratitude.
10. Never bail them out of responsibility.
When children are not allowed to own the consequences of their decisions or actions, they bypass fundamental lessons and fail to understand the reason for gratitude. If we think the lessons are too hard, they will never fully understand.