14 Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude

by Sally Matheny
“I would like to order a cheeseburger and fries, please.”
“Would you like a Mega Shake to go with that?”
“No, thank you. Just a water, please.”
“Your bill is $3.14. Pull up.”

I drive to the first window and count out the correct change for the cashier. Handing him the money, I smile.
Not returning the smile, he takes the money. “Pull up to the next window,”  he says in monotone, closing the window with a slam.
I greet the next cashier with a smile.
He hands the order to me. “Cheeseburger, fries, and water.”
“Yes, thank—“
The window smacks shut. 
  Does this sound familiar? Not all food service personnel are like this, but overall the customer appreciation gauge has definitely nosedived. Are employees not taught proper customer service techniques or do employers assume they were taught at home? 

   Who is teaching today's children about gratitude?
  My senior English teacher in high school, Mrs. Ledford, not only taught us life lessons through literature, she also taught us about other delicacies in life.
  One I will never forget, was when we had to pretend there was a chicken breast on our desk. We were instructed where our napkin should be anchored and how to cut the chicken with a knife and fork.  Many finger-lickin’ teens found this a humorous but valuable lesson. After all, we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves when we went away to college. Mrs. Ledford yearned for us to put our best foot forward as well.


  She taught us the proper way to address our own high school graduation invitations. She instructed us not to burden our parents, but to do it ourselves. We had to practice writing thank you notes. She even had us write a thank you note to our parents. She conveyed the importance of expressing our gratitude to others.

  Not many teachers today invest in the kind of character training Mrs. Ledford did.  Who, then, will teach children about gratitude, rather than perpetuating a sense of entitlement? Hopefully, today’s youth will have the same role models I did—their parents.
  My parents were great at developing thankful hearts. As a young child, I didn’t have a whole lot of say-so in matters. Once when I needed a warm, winter coat, I received one with hideous purple fur--because it was on sale. My parents reminded me of how soft and warm it was. And that was that.
  As I grew older, my opinion was taken into consideration. However, price and quality were still the two determining factors, not brand names or popularity.
  I remember voicing my opinion about an ice cream cone once. It was a treat for our family to go to Spake’s Drive-In and get ice cream.  They had shakes, banana splits, and sundaes, but only two flavors of soft-serve ice cream cones. Chocolate and vanilla.

   My sister and I were always presented a choice of the soft-serve ice cream cones. One day I complained to my dad about not being able to get something different. I informed him (and not in the best way) of my desire for a nut sundae. I don’t remember what he said to me but I have never forgotten how my sister went home with an ice cream cone that day, and I didn’t.
  I learned gratitude.
  There were plenty of times when my parents treated me to special things, even spoiled me.  Those days were fully appreciated because I understood I was not entitled to anything. Either I earned it, or it was a gracious gift.
  Some days I don't do near as good a job as Mrs. Ledford or my parents, in teaching gratitude to my children. It’s so tempting to give my kids the desires of their hearts. I love to make them smile.
  However, giving them everything they want is only giving them temporary happiness. And a relentless sense of entitlement.  Research studies actually link gratitude to happiness and a sense of well being. Entitlement only produces disappointment.
  We can trace selfishness all the way back to Adam and Eve. Gratitude is not something we are born with, we have to learn it. The best way for children to learn gratitude is for parents to model it at home. 

14 Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude:

·        Say please and thank you more often to the spouse, the children, and to people we encounter each day (the cashier, the UPS man, and the fast food servers).
·         Develop our own sense of contentment by not rushing out to buy the latest technical gadget or handbag.
·         Criticize less. Complain less. Point out more good points than bad points in people, things, and circumstances.
·         Express thankfulness for non-material items like love and kindness. Be more attentive to these kinds of things and praise children often. Ex. “I like the way you play with the baby while I wash the dishes. Thank you.”

·         Don’t reward children for every little thing. Teach the principle of doing good because it is the right thing to do. We help others because it is what God desires, and we want to please God. Sometimes we work to earn money or rewards, and sometimes we volunteer.
·         Regularly have your children join you in doing kind deeds for others like baking bread for a sick neighbor or visiting the elderly.
·         Insist children write thank-you notes. Young children can draw a picture of the gift or dictate their note. Teach older ones thoughtful ways to make the note more personal.
·         Encourage generosity. Before birthdays and holidays, ask children to find several things they no longer play with and donate them to charities.
·         As tempting as it is, don’t step in and do your child’s chores for him. He will have a greater appreciation for someone else mowing a lawn on a hot, summer day if he just finished mowing a lawn himself.
·         Make it a practice to talk about the good things that happened each day. Perhaps keep a gratitude journal.

·         When something doesn’t turn out the way the child had hoped, talk about what good things came out of it. Teach children to find things to be thankful for in the midst of trials and disappointments.

·         Pray together. Finding contentment can only come with God’s help. Train young and old hearts with God’s Word.  A thankful heart to God will overflow into other areas of life.

·  When an item is desired, consider 
these responses: 
1. NO, and explain why. 
2. YES, and explain why. 
3. YES, but the child will have to figure
    out a way to obtain it. (Earn money
    or wait for a birthday)

·   When children begin illegitimate
  “I wannas” (I want this and I want that),
  say NO often, and stick to it. That way,
  when the time is right, the YES is much sweeter and appreciated.

  Parents want the best for their children. Overindulgence will only produce an unhappy person who thinks they deserve the best of everything and what everyone else has. Ultimately, this only contributes to an endless cycle of searching for the next best thing.

  Teaching our children how to be content and grateful will not provide them with a perfect life, but it will be a more joyful one. 

   What are some ideas you have for teaching gratitude to children?