Helping Our Children Develop a Heart of Gratitude

By: Jan Lashbrook
If complaining were an Olympic sport, many of us (unfortunately) would take the gold. But God has a better plan for us! CCA’s Early Childhood Director Jan Lashbrook shares practical tips parents can implement to help their children cultivate an attitude of gratitude not just during the Thanksgiving season, but year round!

Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. – Psalm 100:4-5

My home church, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, just wrapped up a study of the book of Philippians, and it has been so timely. Paul was in prison when he wrote it, and he had every right to be grumbling and complaining about his situation. Yet, what he wrote to the church at Philippi were words of gratitude, exhortation, and encouragement. What a great model for us to follow this month and beyond!

One of the topics in Calvary’s Early Years Parenting Class is Discipline & Authority, and a portion of that class has some helpful tips on how to stop the constant whining and complaining of our kids. Many children have whining down to an art form, yet struggle with showing gratitude and contentment. We adults have the same problem.
Because of our sin nature, it’s way more natural to complain about stuff going wrong than to look for things we can be thankful for.
Because of our sin nature, it’s way more natural to complain about stuff going wrong than to look for things we can be thankful for. Kids often default to persistent whining to get what they want, as well as complaining when things don’t go their way. It’s up to us as parents to help them replace their bad attitudes with an attitude of gratitude; not just in the month of Thanksgiving, but all year long.

Family Life shares some great tips for helping our kids develop a heart of gratitude:

  • Don’t tolerate whining or complaining.
    When your child whines, do not give them what they want. Wait a few minutes until they can ask in a respectful manner or a normal voice before you respond to their request. If they do not, don’t give them what they’re whining about.

  • Live out your expectations.
    If we want our kids to be grateful, we need to model being grateful. Being verbally thankful for the blessings we have or the things we get to do helps develop a heart of gratitude in our kids.

  • Remind your kids of all God has done for your family.
    The stones of remembrance in Joshua 4:5-7 were placed there to remind the Israelites to tell their children and grandchildren all that God did for them through the many years in the wilderness so they could understand and appreciate how God protected and provided for them through it all. We can do the same!

  • Point your kids to the awesomeness of creation and our Creator.
    Families don’t always get much outdoor time with the busyness of life, especially in a “concrete jungle” like South Florida. But there is much to be grateful for when we take the time to get outside and dwell on the beauty made by our Creator and how He intentionally provided all we need to live through His amazing creations. We may not have fall leaves, but we have a beautiful ocean nearby.

  • Send your child on a mission trip.
    Mission trips give our kids perspective on all they have compared to the rest of the world. They also promote a spirit of generosity. All three of my kids went on mission trips when they hit middle and high school. Our oldest daughter went to Guatemala with Calvary’s youth group when she was in the 10th grade. When she returned from her 10-day trip, she was changed. She was amazed at the contentment of kids over there that had nothing to play with but rocks and old tires. She saw the poverty and was ashamed of her lack of gratitude with all she had in the United States. Her perspective was changed because of that trip, and she resolved to be thankful for what she had in the future. She still is!

Great Reads for Promoting a Grateful Heart

CCA’s Lower School Media Center and Calvary’s Generous Cafe & Bookstore have some great books for teaching kids about thankfulness. Some of our favorites are listed here and can also be purchased online:

  1. Pumpkin Day! by Candice Ransom
  2. The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs
  3. A Child’s Garden of Prayer by Steve & Becky Miller
  4. Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
  5. Give Thanks to the Lord by Karma Wilsom
  6. Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland
  7. It’s Turkey Day! (for infants) by Mudpie*
  8. Seek and Find: a Very Thankful Prayer by Bonnie Rickner Jensen*
* = Available for purchase at the Generous Cafe & Bookstore.

In her book, Growing Together in Gratitude, Barbara Rainey shares:

“Gratitude is not natural. It is an attitude that must be taught and nurtured. And it is a task more difficult for parents in the West because of our abundance and prosperity.”

But it’s not impossible if we’re willing to put in the work to stop the whining and discontent through modeling and consequences, and intentionally give our kids opportunities to experience God’s care for us through our daily experiences.


“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:7

Jan Lashbrook is the director of Calvary Christian Academy’s Early Childhood program, overseeing our Pre-K and Preschool programs. Jan holds a Masters in Early Childhood Education from Liberty University. She and her husband are “empty-nesters,” having raised three children who are all grown and married. Their youngest, Shawn, attended CCA for 12 years, graduating in 2012.
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