How to raise grateful kids in an entitled world

There’s actually good reason to put a Christmas tree up in our house in mid-October, and it’s not to get a head start on decorating and celebrating.

It’s to host an annual Christmas gift drive for the beautiful orphans at Danita’s Children in Haiti. This was our fourth year hosting the event in our home, and this year was particularly special because we recently traveled to Haiti to meet all of the children in the orphanage. Knowing them personally has profoundly impacted the joy we experience in hosting the gift drive.

We invite friends and neighbors, as well as our son’s classmates and teammates, to join us in gifting the kids with essential items – and the things we tend to take most for granted – like undergarments and toiletries and simple school supplies.

What never ceases to amaze me is how this small event has such a huge impact on the children who participate in it. But of course it does. Of course these kids come alive when they engage in generous acts. It gives them a profound sense of purpose and it inspires gratitude. Gratitude being an appreciation for what they have rather than a focus on what they lack.

You don't have to fly to Haiti or even host a party to experience the link between generosity and gratitude. For example, each month we get to witness our children experience a sense of purpose when they serve dinner at the local homeless shelter. Or we get to observe their joy when we buy lunch for the gentleman holding the “hungry” sign outside the restaurant.

With each act of generosity, we get to watch our children connect with people who are of equal value and worth but have had different life experiences and hardships. And it changes them. It changes us. Each and every time, we walk away humbled, keenly aware that every soul holds intrinsic value and reminded how good it feels to do good things.

The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace. It’s therefore no surprise that gratitude is the natural overflow of a heart that has received and now enjoys the grace of God. It’s also no surprise that grateful people are happier people. Of course there are always exceptions, but most studies affirm the association between gratitude and a person’s overall happiness and contentment.

I often hear parents speak of their desire to raise grateful kids in an entitled world. Most parents want to raise kids who don’t take their gifts for granted, kids who appreciate the good things in their lives. And as a mom to four boys who range in age from toddler to teenager, I can assure you I am still learning how to engender an attitude of gratitude and a spirit of generosity in our kids. I am far from having all the answers but this one thing I know for certain – living generously, not guilty, inspires gratitude in our kids.

Guilt-ridden messages about how our kids “should” be grateful and “shouldn’t” be entitled don’t inspire our kids to live outward and others-focused lives. Living generously does.

For example, how many times have you heard a parent say to a child, “You should be more grateful for everything we have. How could you complain about this food when there are starving kids in Africa?” It would be easy to judge another parents guilt trip if I hadn’t taken my kids on the same trip in years past.

Of course we cannot force our children to be grateful any more than we can force any other virtues in their lives. We don’t hold the power to produce authentic gratitude in our kids. We are free from that pressure. But here’s what we can do.

First, we can introduce our kids to concrete experiences of generosity. Explore local organizations that will welcome your help and be intentional in making it part of your normal routine.

(Courtesy of the author)

Second, we can give our children opportunities to express gratitude. Gratitude journals or family prayer or intentional time set aside to count our blessings is always beneficial.

And third, we can model grateful and generous living. Defeating ingratitude in our kids is largely dependent on them seeing gratitude in us. Yet another area in our parenting where more is caught than taught. Just imagine the repercussions of a generation that was taught to prioritize grateful and generous living with academic and athletic success.

Our unique role, and privilege is to plant the seeds in the hearts and then to live free from the pressure to produce what only God can grow in their lives. We can live in hopeful expectation that our children will develop an attitude of gratitude and spirit of generosity as they mature and grow.