Just about everyone prefers a thankful and happy child who appreciates everything done for them. But helping a child become this grateful is not easy. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally, it must be cultivated.
It requires more than just training a child to say “thank you.”
A child might say thank you all the time, but still have a bad attitude. What they really need is gratitude.
Having gratitude means doing more than being thankful. It also means valuing the kindness of the giver.
For a child to have true gratitude, they must be able to see the difference between what’s owed, what’s earned, and what’s a gift.
Gratitude is an attitude of the heart and a sign of good character. It is the cure for entitlement, needed for contentment, and leads to generosity.
When a child doesn’t have gratitude, they can become very selfish. All their focus is on what they want. They forget the good gifts that they have. They start to believe that they should have everything they want without having to work for it. They complain and are angry and unhappy. Jesus who was very generous (2 Corinthians 8:9) and full of gratitude (John 11:41-42), shared this story.
There was a man who owned some land. One morning, the man went out very early to hire some people to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay the workers one silver coin for working that day. Then he sent them into the vineyard to work.
About nine o’clock the man went to the marketplace and saw some people standing around, doing nothing. So he said to them, ‘If you go and work in my field, I will pay you what your work is worth.’ So they went to work in the vineyard.
At about twelve, three, and five o’clock he went and hired more people, who had no work, to work in his vineyard. He said he would pay them “whatever is right.”
At the end of the day, the owner of the field had all the workers paid starting with the ones who were hired last. Everyone got paid silver coin, so the workers who were hired first thought they would be paid more than the others. When they got their silver coin, they complained.
The owner said to one of them, “Friend, I am being fair with you. You agreed to work for one silver coin. So take your pay and go. If I want to give the man who was hired last the same pay I gave you.
Why are you jealous because I am generous?”
(ERV, with some edits for brevity)
A child, like the worker in the story, needs to be taught an attitude of gratitude. Instilling gratitude starts with talking to kids about gratitude. This parable can teach us and our kids a lot about gratitude.
Here’s are some of the lessons from this parable parents can use to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in their children.
- Set clear expectations. The owner told everyone that he would pay them one silver coin or “what is right.” The workers did what was agreed upon and so did the owner. The first workers hired did not do anything more than they agreed to, so they should not have expected more pay.
- Help children identify gifts and blessings and be thankful to the giver. Just to have work and a silver coin was a gift. Every one of the people who were hired that day started out no work and one less silver coin. Every one of them should have been grateful that the owner came along to hire and pay them.
- Be a good example. Like the field owner, be generous. Be an example of a person with gratitude. Don’t complain or talk about all that you are owed. It is tempting to parent by complaint, saying things like, “How many times have I told you?..You drive me crazy…I’m sick and tired of…” But this does not correct, teach, or help a child learn how to do better. If you must complain, complain to someone who can help, not to your kids.
- Help your children to see those in need without comparing. The people hired at the end of the day needed work and money. The workers who were hired first compared their work to the work of the people hired last. It only made them angry. Instead, they could have been happy for the people hired later to have found a job, like they had themselves. They could’ve focused on what a generous giver the landowner was.
- Teach them that having things requires effort by having them earn and care for things given to them. No one got a silver coin for doing nothing.
- Remind them that their value is in who they are, not in their position or wealth. Everyone the owner came across was invited. No one was judged. Though they were different, even hired at different times and places, they were valued and paid equally.
There are times when life will appear unfair. Perhaps, if you have two kids, one needs more attention, food, or clothes than the other. Or, one is better behaved and more helpful, and might feel entitled to extra rewards. Maybe they’re comparing themselves to a friend.
But God doesn’t give in to our comparisons or surrender to our sense of fairness, but because He is generous and knows what we need and when we need it.God doesn't give under compulsion, but because He is generous. Click To Tweet
And so we should do the same with our children. Don’t worry about satisfying their sense of what’s fair, don’t even pretend to. It rewards complaint and entitlement.
Instead help your kids to see that you give willingly according to what each one needs and from a place of generosity.
– excerpts from, “Parenting in Christ: Lessons from the Parables”
How do you create an atmosphere of gratitude in your home?