Saturday, October 16, 2010


You know what I singlehandedly struggle with the most as a parent?  Teaching my kids gratitude.  They suck at showing gratitude, and I suck at teaching it.  And it's the one value I want to impart the most onto them, especially Taylor.

As soon as a glimmer of whining, pleading, pouting, begging comes out of her mouth, I go into this old-school parenting mode and lose all wits about me and start a rambling, heated diatribe of a rant telling her she has no idea how lucky she is and I should take all her toys away and on and on.  I'm one step away from telling her how I had to walk 5 miles to school every day in the snow with worn in tennis shoes, even though it never snows in Whittier, or anyplace in Southern California for that matter. I do think the statement, even though untrue, would be good for effect.

I know exactly why ingratitude strikes such an ugly chord with me.  We didn't have much when I grew up.  Sure we got by and I don't remember ever once getting sticks in my stocking at Christmas time, but we sure didn't have a lot.  If I wanted Rollerblades, my mom got me the cheap knock-offs from Pic 'N Save called Rollerspades.  I had one Cabbage Patch Doll, not ten like some of my friends.  We certainly never went on fancy vacations, we never ate out much, especially not at gourmet restaurants.  My life was not filled with a special outing a week to the Pumpkin Patch, or the Apple Farm.  We got our apples in a 5 lb. bag and our pumpkins the day before so they were discounted at the supermarket.  

The point I'm making is that these kids have done more in their short 5 years of life than I did in my first 18, and that is no stretch of an exaggeration, it's the God honest truth.  So when Taylor pitches a fit this morning because after 3 hours at Tanaka Farms riding tractors, ATV's, picking pumpkins, having a picnic, playing with friends, she doesn't also get to pick vegetables, I get angry, and disappointed, and saddened.  I was too tired for my usual diatribe, so Art took over and talked her through it, and we ended what was overall a great day on a good note.  But still...

I know she is 5 and not 10, so at this point teaching gratitude is on me.  I have to live it, breathe it, exemplify it.  I have to say thank you, I have to lift the Lord up in praise for how much we do have, not complain about what we need to have.  Art and I need to be the models of gratitude.  But above and beyond that, how do we teach this valuable trait?  How do we instill it in their heart so the "thank yous" that they speak are genuine, sincere, real and heartfelt?  There's nothing worse than the child that has been so conditioned to just say the words thank you that they end up sounding like an automated robot.

So friends, how do you teach gratitude?  How, in this day and age, do we give our kids the life that we never had, without turning them into spoiled brats?  Or better yet, what is a value that is important to your family vision, and how do you try to teach your children that value?  I would love to know...


  1. I think my childhood was very similiar to yours. We have an only child...and sometimes I feel like we do so much. Our son is 7 and 1/2 and he quite often expresses his gratitude. At 5...not so much! We write lots of thank-you notes and cards to people. We also talk a lot about kids that are less fortunate.

  2. I love this post. Coming from the same type of childhood, I appreciated this. And having children of my own, I am very excited to come back and read comments seeing that this is important to me. Thanks, Andrea!!


  3. I can relate relate relate. Just this morning I learned that the child's brain is not developed to connect to constant empathy for others. There may be moments of it for them However they are in a "me world" still, and the brain truly doesn't stop developing itself till 24. So, they will learn from your modeling...it's the only way to go. For us to have unrealistic expectations of them when it's not yet developed in their little brains is the understanding. Examine any expectations with their actual development, and you'll see that they're right on the mark. (just went to a parenting class this morning ;) For myself, I know the more I slow down and feel connection in my heart, environment and actions, then flows in the gratitude. They will follow your lead....eventually.

  4. Thank goodness, someone else who shares my gratitude issues. I have had many a fight with Miranda over gratitude. I shouldn't fight at all but I, like yourself was comfortable growing up but did not do 1 ounce of the stuff we do now as a family, when Miranda has a tantrum it really makes me mad and then more sad because how at 5 years of age is she supposed to know how to feel . I think I will finally see more obvious results when she hits the high teen years and even when she becomes an adult. Yes I think it will take that long, many many years, but if you stop trying to show them how to be grateful in these very early years it will come back and haunt you. Sometimes Miranda will say thank you to another person before I have to use the awful prompt sentence, "What do we say?" and It sounds so genuine and really makes me think something is getting through to her. I could go on and on with this post but i'm glad you brought it up, you and Art are good people and we can just keep trying to do what we do best, being parents.

  5. My Cabbage Patch was a knock-off, like your spades! :)

    I think about this all of the time with my kids. It's something we work hard at. One rule I have is that when we go grocery shopping they are not allowed to ask for anything. Nothing. Nada. (Well, Ok, Calvin asked for sugar snap peas last time and I caved. Ha!)

    We are also trying to be much more intentional with not eating out as much (they were starting to sort of expect it, plus it's expensive!) and with making sure our kids see us in action when we are generous with what we do have. It's a big task, that's for sure! But so important.

  6. Modeling for them is really the only way to do it, I think. From the time my girls have been little every time I have given them something (breakfast even) I said, "Thank you Mommy," very pleasantly, not to be sarcastic, but to show them the proper response. I figured that since they copied everything I did and said that eventually they'd say, "thank you." I think it has definitely helped! They both have pretty good manners most of the time, but they certainly aren't anywhere close to perfect.

    Sometimes kids are just going to throw fits when things don't go their way; that is normal behavior for little ones as they test out the workings of their world. Sometimes compliance is all we can hope for. After all, they don't have to like what we require of them or be happy about it. If they get upset and irritatingly ungrateful, but we stick to our guns anyway, that goes a long way toward teaching them of our expectations.

    If that doesn't work, a spring break spent doing service in a 3rd world country (or some parts of ours, for that matter), might definitely help! I'm filing that advice away to be used on my girls when they become teens.

  7. My daughter is only two, but manners and grattitude are things we are already working on. I know I can't speak from experience, as my daughter isn't as old as your kids are and i'm sure i will struggle with the same issues, but i do have a suggestion. Sponsor a child ftom Compassion International. You pay a nominal monthly fee and they send you a photo of your child to pray for and correspond with. With the money, they provide food, clothing and education...the basics. My mom has sponsored the same little girl for over 10 years. One Christmas my mom sent a little extra as a gift and when the little girl wrote back she was so excited to tell us that she got her very own bed with her money...made out of straw. Before that she had slept on the floor. Another year we learned that her mother had passed and she had to stay home from school and help her dad with the family and work. Obviously you don't need to share all of the information with your kids, but i think they are old enough to understand on a basic level. They'll also see how unbelieveably grateful these kids are for your sponsorship as if they were the luckiest kid in the world despite some of the terrible things they have to endure. Well, that's my two cents anyway, sorry this was so long!

  8. Model it. It's the only way.

  9. this is a great post andrea!! this is very close to my heart to and the only way i've been able to figure out how to instill gratitude is through giving. i make a point to give things instead of money to organizations because i think it helps my kids have a more concrete understanding of what they have and how they can help others. each week at the grocery store i let henry pick out something for the food cart at church and we have a little conversation about how if we needed help buying food we would want others to help us. we also give our unused items to charities instead of throwing them away or yard sale-ing them. we talk about how his old bike is going to make another little boy so happy, etc.

  10. YES, YES, YES!!!! You have written the many words (beautifully!) that have been floating around in my head tonight! It is SOOO hard to teach these kids to be appreciative of what they do get. I get infuriated with the whining given that he gets so MUCH. I have even treatened to send Chase to a 3rd world country so he can see how much of the world's population lives! Keep fighting the good fight, when they get a bit older, they WILL start to understand. I think gratitude comes with maturity.

  11. Thanks so much for all the advice, tips and encouragement. It's nice to know we're not alone in this. We had a talk today and we're going to start doing the can/food item contribution that Heather suggested. We say Grace at each meal, and I know that helps reinforce the gratitude, but we have so much more we could do, so much further we can take it. I'm inspired by all of you, really, thanks so much.

  12. I'm struggling with the same thing and my kids are 5 & 9. It's hard because they do have so much, and they have at their ages done more than I did before I got married. I read all the other comments too, because although I try to model it and teach it, it's so easy for kids to look at who has more rather than who has less. I agree with the comments that mentioned highlighting those who have less and are struggling. That always hit home with me as a kid.

  13. Sry I'm late to post, wanted to add my two cents. We are still learning for sure, but have a few things who have worked over the years. We have never made gifts a huge deal in our house so they aren't. For our kids bdays we make the party or way we celebrate the gift and give them the option to receive gifts for a charitable organization. This year we gathered items for Operation Christmas Child. We also only do three gifts at Christmas, representing the three gifts Jesus received. Our kids have never acted slighted and really compassionate givers. Hope these tips help.


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