Teaching Children to Be Humbly Grateful


by Carolyn Sherrod

The Thanksgiving and Christmas season is upon us and we are reminded of our need to teach our children the virtue of gratitude. A few years ago, at a Thanksgiving celebration, our church’s children’s choir sang a song about gratitude. Using a play on words, the title itself spoke a clear message, “Are You Humbly Grateful, or Grumbly Hateful?” The lyrics of the chorus asked:

Are you humbly grateful, or grumbly hateful? What’s your attitude?

Do you grumble and groan or let it be known you’re grateful for all God’s done for you?

Which one are you? Which one are you?

Let’s face it! We all have known both adults and children who fit into either of these categories. Perhaps you resonate with the question, “which one are you?” We all would want to be known as being humbly grateful, and that we are raising our children to be humbly grateful. But instead, another kind of pandemic is currently sweeping our culture - a lack of thankfulness, a sense of entitlement, and an unhealthy focus on self and wants.  

As we look at ways we can teach our children to be grateful, we need to first examine our own attitude. How do we measure up on the gratitude meter? Our example is paramount if we want our children, grandchildren, and students to be grateful. If you think about it, often the first words children learn are “MINE!” “NO!” and “MORE!” Unless prodded by mom or dad, the words “thank you!” are rarely heard. Many of us are just like little children having a tantrum; a stomping of the foot, a clenching of the fists, a furrowed brow, demanding to get what we want. Maybe not physically, but certainly in an attitude of the heart.  

So what can we do to turn our hearts towards gratitude and thankfulness? What can we do to instill thankfulness in our children for their blessings, and to appreciate what others do for them or give them? Here are some simple ways to start.

Recognize our blessings and the Source of our blessings

“Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits.” Ps.103:2  

It is easier to help our children recognize their blessings and to be grateful for them when they know that God, their Creator, is the Source of all blessings. He has a purpose for every good gift that He gives. 

Sometimes it is the simple things we enjoy every day that we take for granted, such as clean water, shelter, food to eat, a Bible to read. Make it a practice in your home to openly talk about what you are thankful for. “I am thankful for…” could be a great conversation starter when your family sits down for dinner or when you quiet down to get ready for bed. Model this for your children. 

If your family is anything like our family, the days are busy and full. We learned to make the most of every minute, even time in the car! You may want to use the alphabet to help you think of blessings that God gives. For example, A is for the air He gives us to breathe, B is for the beautiful sunrise that reminds us that He is the light of the world, etc.   

Learn to express gratitude

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Ps. 107:1

It is important that we model gratitude for our children and teach them ways that they themselves can express gratitude. Some ways to do this might be:  

Encourage your children to use the gifts that God has given them to bless others and to show thankfulness to God. Children love to contribute. Guide them in seeking ways to serve others and give God glory.

Teach them to say thank you and to write notes of thanks to others. 

Keep a journal of thanksgiving and gratitude; this can be as simple as a weekly sheet with a line for Sunday through Saturday to write what you are thankful for, or a journal you keep as a family and add to as anyone thinks of a blessing. Take time to say thank you to God, who gives good gifts to us. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Guard our hearts and our children’s hearts

“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15

The Bible tells us that the devil crouches at the door like a lion. He is waiting to seek whom he may devour. There are so many gratitude robbers and one of them is greed. It is important to teach children, and ourselves, the difference between a need and a want. Advertisers know how to lure and even push us towards certain items that crave our interest. More than ever adults and kids have phones, iPads, tablets, and computers which can be tools that can turn interest into coveting which leads to greed. We need to guard our hearts. 

May your hearts be filled with true gratitude this Thanksgiving, and may God find us all HUMBLY GRATEFUL for His many blessings.

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