Growing Gratitude in Grouchy Kids

My kids complained about their dinner again last night. Two days ago, my kindergartner was in a heap on the floor because she didn’t have the right leggings….“You know, MOM, the new ones we saw at Target!?” On a regular basis, my 3-year-old can’t find the “good red” from our box that holds markers, colored pencils, Crayola twistable crayons, 64-count classic crayons, 100-count special edition crayons, and 18 oil pastels.

Hmmm. Wondering where I’m going wrong with my kids who

- have warm food to fill their bellies three times a day,

-a closet full of clothes,

- baskets full of age-appropriate entertainment,

-books on the shelves,

-a roof over their head,

-parents who love them,

-and more

But are still so ungrateful.

Wouldn’t it be nice to grow gratitude in our children’s hearts? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a, “Thanks for dinner, Mom!” every now and then? Wouldn’t it be nice to teach our children to appreciate all they have?

You know, as moms we can do that. It’s actually our job to do that. This is the month where we focus on THANKSGIVING so it is a natural place to start. You can even make it fun and festive for your kids to learn this practice of giving thanks.

Start by modeling it. It was hard for me to admit it, but when my daughter wished for those new leggings from the Target rack instead of the ones in her dresser drawer, I saw me in her. (I like it better when I think she got her intellect or kindness from me!) I could see myself some mornings trying on too many outfits, discarding not the right choice into a growing pile on the closet floor. She has been a sure witness to that. As moms, we need to be mindful—and realistic—about what we actually are passing on to our kids. They are always watching and much more aware than I give them credit for. Start modeling gratitude for your family. Let your kids see you be satisfied with what you already have instead of always longing for something more.

Set the expectation. Tell your kids that you’ll be using this month of November to practice being thankful. Make it a set expectation for all of you. Explain what being thankful is and why it’s important. I was surprised when my daughter came home from K4 last November defining contentment. You might try it at your house. “Contentment is being thankful for what you have instead of always wanting something different or something more,” she reported. Even young kids can understand if you take the time to talk about it.

Encourage your family to practice it. The more you practice gratitude, the more it will become a habit in your home. You could start with something simple. If a child doesn’t say thank you for the snack you offer, you’ll take it back until he does. That gets a quick response in our house! It’s a gentle, but concise, reminder to express thanks. Each night around the dinner table, ask every person to share one thing he or she is thankful for from that day. With younger children, you may get seemingly trite responses but celebrate any comment: Yes, we’re thankful for that blankie!

Make it special. Sometimes we need to elevate an idea or event to communicate that it’s important. This is where crafting and family projects can be a good addition to teaching a new idea. Set aside a time to have a family night to make a thankful tree. Have your children cut out leaves from different colored construction paper. Then, depending on age, your children can write, draw, or even put stickers on to tell something that they are thankful for. If printable is more your style, here’s a link to a free download for premade template. Then use the Thanksgiving tree as a centerpiece for your Thanksgiving Day table to remind your family what the holiday is really about.

I can’t promise that it will be easy. I can’t promise that it will be fast. But growing gratitude in your family will be worth the investment. One day society—and maybe even your kids—will thank you!