Everyone likes a thankful and happy child who appreciates everything done for them. But helping a child become this grateful is not easy. 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 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 thankful (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?"
-Matthew 20:1-15 (ERV, with some edits for brevity by the author)
A child, like the worker in the story, needs to be taught an attitude of gratitude. Here's some practices from the story we can use to help children find gratitude.
There are times when things 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, He gives because He is generous and He knows what we need and when. And so we should do the same with our children. Don't concern yourself with satisfying their sense of what's fair, don't even pretend to. It rewards complaint and entitlement. Instead help them to see that you give according to what each one needs and from a place of generosity, not obligation.
I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving. May you be filled with gratitude, appreciating the gifts you have, and valuing the generosity of the Giver.
- From my new book, "Parenting in Christ: Lessons from the Parables"
- Going Deeper: Listen to the sermon "Overcoming Apathy, Cynicism, and Low-Grade Anger"
by Rankin Wilbourne on November 20, 2011 (Luke 17:11-19)