A Changed Heart: Cultivating An Attitude of Gratitude in Our Children

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From where does gratitude come?

 

We’ve all been there. You plan a special outing for your children, you think of what they would love the most, you envision their delight, and anticipate memories made that will last for a lifetime. 

Only to arrive at said special destination and be met with complaining, grumbling, and just overall bad behavior. “What did I do wrong? Why are they so ungrateful?” Sometimes we hash it out and try to make the most of the situation, and other times we make a beeline for home where it’s tempting to stew the rest of the day and feel discouraged in our reflections of such a display of ingratitude. 

a mom holding her newborn son as her two daughters look on
Photo by Celeste Boyer Photography

Patience

I don’t think gratitude is a characteristic our children will develop overnight (especially your 2-year-old!) In fact, I know this to be true because I’m 35, and I’m STILL learning hard lessons in feeling thankful. My husband calls me out (in love and with grace) all the time for lacking gratitude in my circumstances when I comment on a friend’s wardrobe or new car or seemingly perfect vacation. Gratitude is a continued journey learned in all seasons of life, not just in our childhood. 

Gratitude is Taught

Spoiler alert – it seems as though our children might be born with many things ingrained within them, but I’m not convinced gratitude is one of them. Still, I can help teach them by practicing gratitude myself! Gratitude for our family and friends, for kind neighbors, for teachers and education, for food on our table, and clothes on our backs. Even the difficult circumstances of our lives can yield lessons in counting the blessings we have (without negating the painful realities of life either). Our children look to us as the model of how to live in this world, and I believe gratitude is something we can teach them.

If I find myself feeling grateful for something in my life, I share it with my kids! Especially if they did something that made me feel grateful. By observing me model gratitude, my hope is that they, too, will learn to model and ultimately feel authentic gratitude in their own hearts.

Forced Gratitude Isn’t the Goal, A Changed Heart Is

The goal of parenting is not control of behavior, but rather heart and life change. No matter how successfully you control their choices and behavior, your control cannot and will not free your kids from a deeper need – a clean heart.” – Paul Tripp

My end goal isn’t to force my children to “be grateful” but to help cultivate a heart at its core that is grateful, or longs to be, and wants to share that gratitude with others. 

Planting and Harvesting In Parenthood

I may or may not see the fruits of this in my lifetime. In fact, none of us are guaranteed to see the harvest of what we’re planting in our kids every day. Some of us may harvest and plant and be extremely disappointed by the fruit that is yielded in the lives of our children. Others of us may toil in parenting for years, thinking we’re hitting all the rocky soil, and then one day see a little sprout that shows they have taken to heart the lessons and values we’ve been imparting. 

But ultimately, I’m reminded to extend grace to my children because I’ve been the recipient of so much grace in my own moments of ungratefulness.  This is an area where we can journey together with our children, and I trust in some way that it will pay dividends. 

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