Thankful Kids: A Candid Conversation

NICOLE: So how do you get your children to be thankful for what they have? I’m really sick of my child complaining about the few things we have been able to give him. For example, we went to the Lego store today. I got him a mini fig ($4). he loved it until this evening with he was having a hard time removing a piece and starting whining and complaining about it, instead of asking for help with it. Another example is he has been asking me to get some waffles for about a week. He hasn’t had any in a while, so I asked my husband to get some while he was at the store. After he got home, my son started complaining that ‘all we had was waffles’. I went off. I lost it. then we ended up having a decent conversation between the three of us, but it still is very frustrating. I want to drop the iron hammer on him. I mean tighten up on everything. No toys. No extras at all. I’m just really fuming and frustrated.


MELISSA: How old is he?I think thankfulness and appreciation comes with age, and that age is different for each child. Modeling those things for them is a huge help I think. Saying thank you to them, in front of them, in prayers, to others, etc. Same with being appreciative.

With the Lego figure it sounded like just sheer frustration because it was difficult. Not that it was not appreciated. I think of it like an adult who gets a new item home, and the item is hard to use and expresses frustration.

Maybe your son couldn’t find anything appetizing or easy for him to make, hence the frustration with only seeing waffles.

NICOLE: He is 8. True enough for the Lego thing. He had just gotten excited when he heard that dad was bringing it home.

CHRISTINA: My daughter is 4. She does fairly well in being thankful for what she has, but since she is still a child she complains and isn’t very thankful sometimes. Whether it be over a toy, or a dinner, or the fact that mommy has to go to work. I and my husband gently remind her that some children do not have any food to eat, or any toys to play with, or have parents who have jobs who can provide things for them. She is beginning to understand she doesn’t need all she has and is happy to share. We donate her toys every couple of months or so and she is happy to share and “make another little girl happy,” which is how she says it.

It is really just a process I think. I remind her to thank God for what we have because without Him nothing would be possible. She is a “happy helper” one day (not always LOL) and we thank her for her help which in turn allows her to feel thankful when we help her. She doesn’t always remember but it is something I try not to get angry about. I hate leaving my children to go to work, so when we have extra money to buy something and it isn’t “what she wants” I do get upset, but then I learn from it. Meaning, this Christmas, we are going through all of her toys and donating them, and they are being replaced with gifts that aren’t too expensive and aren’t character-based and the “cool” ones. So now when she doesn’t play with them, I wont get angry. And we actually believe she will play with them more because they encourage imagination.

I suggest offering your son to donate the toys he no longer wants to play with or like. It will teach him appreciation when he drops them off and gets a thank you, as well as sacrificing to make someone else happy. I think it is something learned in time, as well as through demonstration … and frustration, that is just part of the process…

NICOLE: My frustration is that we have sacrificed a lot financially for me to be home. I mean we were barely making ends meet when I was working full-time, so for me to spend $4 on a mini fig, it’s a splurge and he should know that. I’m always telling him that we can’t do this or that or we can’t buy this or that because we don’t have the money to do it.

LEIGH: We have just barely lived paycheck to paycheck, and not even that well sometimes, for the entire 14 years we have been together. We have always been very blunt and honest with the kids about not having the money for very many extras, so when they do get something, they know it was a sacrifice and truly appreciate it. It also really helps if you and your husband openly model thankfulness in your day-to-day lives, even over things like being able to prepare a special supper, or just getting a $1 soda from McDonald’s. Oh, another thing is to be careful not to openly complain too much in front of your son. I tend to be a complainer and when I really get on a roll, everyone in the house gets into a funk and follows suit.

NICOLE: I don’t think I complain much and I think I am pretty thankful

CHRISTINA: I completely understand that frustration, as I am currently working part-time because I have to make ends meet and my husband is looking for a part-time on top of his full-time for me to stay home. I do not think that maybe an 8-year-old can totally understand what not having enough money means though. meaning, they don’t know there is a price on everything from your home to food to toys to clothes, they can not possibly grasp that at such a young age. So I think maybe he just doesn’t understand and he doesn’t realize by him getting frustrated with a toy (which i am sure he loved) would have been so hurtful to you as a mom who was just trying to make your child smile. I would just breathe and gently remind him it was a special gift, and that maybe taking a break and going back will make it more fun … I don’t know, just I wouldn’t take too much offense to it as he doesn’t know he is hurting or bothering you

MELISSA: Nicole we also sacrifice a lot as well. My husband supports 6 of us on one income. Our older children, 9 and 11, are very involved in our finances and our budget. They also get spending money to spend however they choose. It is helpful for them to see that we put things that are important to them as just a high priority as things we buy ourselves. So if I said, we can’t get x today, there is no money, but I come home the next day with a new item for myself, that would be confusing to them, and dishonest of me. Not saying you are doing or have done any of this of course. But just something we stay true to here.

MICHELLE: Probably the same way God teaches us thankfulness, by loving us, role modelling it and waiting patiently for it one day to ‘click’ and given that doesn’t happen for all of us for a long time, maybe it will be a journey for our kids too

CARMA: I would say 8 is old enough to start understanding, but often just telling them “we can’t afford it” doesn’t make any sense. There are still checks in the checkbook, right? The ATM still works, right? LOL – that’s the child’s concept of where money comes from.

Maybe you could sit down with him with a simple chart or graph or budget of some kind and show him: this is the money we have every week/month, this is what we spend on house/food/electricity/etc, and this is what we have to play with. Make him part of the family budget. There are some good books and even games out there to help them understand the concept. Monopoly and The Game of Life and Payday, of course – with lots of discussion about how these apply in the real world! But even some games like Larry Burkett’s Money Matters for Kids and Rich Dad’s Cashflow 101, very specifically helping kids understand budgeting. Moneywise Kids looks similar but I don’t know anything about it.

And talking about BLESSINGS always helps. Make it a suppertime habit to talk about the things you are thankful for each day. And GIVING helps immensely, too: help him go through his toys two or three times a year and choose things he doesn’t want or use much any more (NOT just broken stuff, ha) and use them to “bless others” by giving to a children’s home or hospital or just donating to Big Brothers. Or save up his own money to fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, or purchase a toy off an Angel Tree, or sponsor a child each month with Gospel for Asia’s Bridge of Hope.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but if he sees you modeling thankfulness and not complaining, and gets to learn about and partake in money matters, and sees blessing-counting and -sharing happen in front of him, he will begin to learn to value and be thankful for his own things.

CINDY: My boys are 7 & 9 and we have this happen from time to time as well. To be honest I don’t think I was too thankful at their ages and I don’t expect them to understand the sacrifice of only living on one income. My daughters 20 & 22 understand it now and it has been a huge blessing when they sacrifice to take us out to dinner or buy a special expensive gift. As long as you are modeling thankfulness and giving to others I believe it will come with time.

TACI: We’re going through similar things here. I started paying for “jobs” done around the house, hoping that when they learn the amount of work associated with earning money, they’ll have a different respect for people buying things for them. We’ve also spent more time reading letters from our Compassion Child and other kids in 3rd world countries.

CATHY: Hey Nicole, breathe. Try not to take your son’s comments personally. He is commenting on the imperfection of things. We could all join in on this. The issue is that it feels like a comment on YOU. Which it isn’t. Try to separate the two – it will help. It is hard when you are doing the best you are able to do and it feels like your child is criticizing you. No, a criticism of stuff is not a criticism of you. And quite possibly, he would be shocked if he were able to see how you ‘hear’ what he is saying. So put these two things in separate boxes – ‘What is he saying?’ and ‘How does it make you feel?’ If you do this, you will find it easier. (And then part of your work can be to explore with God WHY it makes you feel this way – there may be a hurt there that God wants to heal.)

So when your son comments on the imperfection of life, you can agree. Yes, it is this way. What a shame. Life is pretty disappointing. Nothing ever delivers what it promises. Everything in this world; everything man can make and give (this includes us, your parents, by the way) is limited. This is true. And sad. Isn’t it good that we know God? He is the only One Who is perfect. He is the One Who brings us true happiness. he is the One Who fills the empty spaces. Thus helping the child to shift his focus. And then from that place to make the most of the situation the way it is. Yes, it is imperfect, but what is good about it?

I have a daughter who, when she was little, was inclined to be negative. We made a game (NOT a punishment, a game – ie with a lot of fun and joking and laughter), that if anyone – child or adult – said a negative thing – complaint or criticism – they then had to say 5 good things to cancel the negative thing. Today, age 15, she is one of the most positive, aware, and grateful people I have ever met. So be encouraged.

TRACI: A critical personality is so hard to deal with. My husband is one. (He never grew out of it, although he’s grateful now as an adult, he still is very critical.) I agree with what Cathy said.

LYDIA: Cathy, I really like that idea about the game! The only other thing that we do that I don’t think I saw mentioned was being honest when we (the parent) struggle in a certain area. I sometimes have a hard time focusing on my blessings instead of where I am frustrated. When I catch myself doing this, especially in front of my children, I will stop and ask them to pray with me about my attitude. It is very humbling to hear your daughters pray for you in an area where you struggle.

On the flip side, when God answers a prayer we rejoice – loudly, openly. My example, in May a few years ago, my daughter desperately wanted goggles for swimming. (I’m not totally sure why to this day.) But she asked for days, and my response was “Honey, I know you really want them, but I just cannot afford them right now, but we will put them on our wishlist and when we can we’ll get them.” Then, she kept asking and I was getting frustrated. God said to me, “Pray with your daughter. This isn’t a need. But it is important.” Thankfully I obeyed. We prayed. We prayed for a week. I was like, “Lord, this is silly. What if you disappoint my child.” (I know, I was wrong). My daughter though trusted that God would provide! We went to a birthday party at the end of the week. Do you know what they gave as a gift to the friends that came to the birthday party? GOGGLES! She yelled – across the party to me – “Mom, God has answered my prayers! He gave me goggles!”… we rejoiced, hugging and thanking Him for His love – for giving us not only what we need, but also sometimes what we want!

NICOLE: well put Cathy. thanks.

SHANNON: Every once in a while, my kids hear about the poor kids in [insert country] who don’t have [insert current favorite thing] or even anything close to that nice. I might pull up pictures of starving children if I think I need to drive home my point. Then I explain that they are blessed and that they had better not complain about what they have. In fact, I had a convo with my 6yo today about his computer that went along those lines, though my point with that one was that Daddy works hard to provide nice things for us and we had better be quiet and let him sleep in when he has a chance.

Also, once or twice a year we go through and clean out toys. We have a lot of kids, so we make them each pick 5 or so (that’s still a LOT of toys in the house, and some are exempt like Legos and such) and all the rest go to Goodwill. And while we’re doing it, we talk about how happy some other child will be to find this cool toy at Goodwill, and about how maybe their parents couldn’t afford to buy it at Toys R Us, but they could buy this one at Goodwill. So we turn the toy cleansing into a lesson on giving and thankfulness.

And when your kids get to be teens, nothing is as good as a trip to a foreign country, like a missions trip. They’ll be cured of their materialism pretty quickly when they see what kids in poor countries are happy with.

KEESHA: Great video to share with your kids on the topic! ; )

CATHY: Lydia, thanks so much for adding your story! Such an important piece of the puzzle that Probably the most important one… teaching our children, and ourselves, to look to the Source. Oral Roberts taught on this, about the difference between ‘sources’ and ‘the Source’, and I have never forgotten, It helped me so much in the process of dropping my expectations of people and taking my needs and desires to God. So we are sources of provision in our children’s lives, legitimate ones and it is good that they look to us … however, ultimately, He is the only Source, and every good gift comes to us from his hands.

I laughed so much once, hearing a similar story to yours, where an 8-year-old child had asked her dad for a new bicycle, and he had said no, because they couldn’t afford one, and she went to God about it and someone gave her one and she was so thrilled.

On a personal note, big thing, my 15-year-old was outgrowing her pony and she knew it and I knew it but there was no spare cash to do anything about it, besides which we could never get rid of the one she has, so I was panicking a bit about equestrian expenses. She asked if there was any possibility of buying her a horse and I said no, not this year, not in the immediate future either. There was a gorgeous Arab that she liked a lot; she had asked me a year before if I would consider buying him for her and I had said no, he would have been WAY too expensive. Anyway … to cut the long story short, she prayed about it and asked God to provide her with a horse if she really needed one… and within a few months the owners of this beautiful, valuable, purebred Arab phoned us and asked if we would consider allowing them to give him to her. They knew she was outgrowing her pony, but had no idea she had prayed for a horse. They also didn’t know that she had asked me about buying him. They just thought she would be a good owner for him – he needs special care and understanding. Isn’t that cool? She now owns a much nicer horse than Craig and I could have bought her at this stage…. God’s provision, which is always so much bigger and wiser than ours. I learned so much from this experience.

JANI: Don’t know if he’s old enough but could start in some way. My daughter helped me pay bills, shop, research purchases to be made finding best price, etc. She even helped make up our monthly budget. She could not help but “get it” then … did wonders for her attitude.

NICOLE: Cathy, I must have been reading too fast, cause I missed the game the first time, but thanks to Lydia, I went back and read it. That’s pretty cool. Lydia, your story was great! Thanks for sharing.

Shannon, I have done several of those things. Our church just sent 70 boxes to our new ministry in the remote mountains of Honduras. We also spent several days hanging out with 5 Ukrainian orphans this summer, which sparked a bunch of conversations. We have recently cleared out a bunch of toys for a yard sale to raise money for our passports to go to Honduras. So the mission trip is also on the table. I do realize though that until you actually step foot onto that foreign soil, you really don’t “get it,” so I just continue to describe things and show pics when I can.

I really like the idea of showing him our budget, but we don’t have one. (Whole other frustration that I won’t go into now.) I just thought that I could still how him a rough idea of what we having coming in and going out. I’m sure it must be confusing when my husband’s check is direct deposited, then we use debit cards mostly. He rarely actually sees the money.

Thank you all for all you suggestions and ideas. I hate to think that this is just one more example of my not knowing what is an age appropriate expectation. That is so frustrating. I want so badly to not put him in a box, but then I expect too much of him, and I’m not even talking about grade level ‘education’ stuff. I’m talking about maturity issues. ugh. parenting is definitely the most difficult job in the world.

And Cathy, that is a wonderful story. We did actually have a similar, but much smaller scale thing happen recently. I had been telling God that I really wanted to get some scratch (corn and seed mixture) for my chickens, but didn’t have the money for it. Didn’t say a thing to anyone else. One Saturday we had a lot to squeeze in to a short period of time, one thing was a birthday party for one of my son’s buddies. They decided to have it at the boys grandparents’ house a little out in the country. Cute little place, very much like what I would like to eventually have. some land, a barn, etc. I chatted with the grandmother about this and my chickens. She had had one lone chicken that had been killed by a hawk. She told her husband to take me out to the barn and to take a bag. He grabbed an empty dog food bag that held about 25 lbs. I enjoyed seeing the barn, but what happened next just floored me. He emptied a trash can full of scratch into that bag and gave it to me. I was so overwhelmed that I just stood there and cried. My God loves me and my chickens, and He wants to do things like that for us.

DEANA: First, age and maturity. My oldest seems to think he needs this and that and I tell him we have to wait til we have money, or we could take it from the food money and he can skip some meals:) my others are ok with things that they get. Our problem is just not taking good care of things.

Oh, parents….the ” there are poor kids with no food or toys” thing, don’t do that ! It doesn’t work half the time. My oldest goes with us when our ministry distributes food and items, he sees it as not his situation. I think you can be honest with your feelings, kids need to see that. They need to know things are tight and sacrifices made.

HEATHER: Cathy, just had time to catch up with this post and that is exactly our experience. We had a game like that plus anytime the kids are dissatisfied or disappointed we talk about expectations vs reality. Also, we pray over anything we can’t afford. The kids have always done this because, well, we have never had a lot. The things God has supplied to those kids (and my husband and I) through many different sources are absolutely amazing. The kids’ shared laptop, Rachel’s drawing laptop, other desktop computers – all except my husband’s, the smart phone we use as an extra computer, clothes, coats, and shoes (for years we didn’t buy any; God supplied them), almost all of their toys, game systems, replacements for lost, broken, or grown-out-of-things, the list goes on.

The kids have excellent attitudes about stuff now (my oldest really struggled with discontent for years and now Rach is a most gracious, joyful young lady). In fact, just a few days ago Issac was devastated because he gave away his two (too small) snowboards which had been given him by an uncle. Yesterday we visited my mother-in-law, and my brother-in-law was over there for a visit. Issac mentioned that he had had to give up his two small snowboards and my brother-in-law gave him his own first snowboard, which is a professional board and only slightly too big. He had been going to sell it and had never gotten around to it. Issac is so excited and really hoping we get a good snow before we have to move away from here (if we are) so he can snowboard.

NICOLE: That’s awesome Heather, so there is hope. Thanks for the encouragement.

HEATHER: Oh, also, I kind of had to fast from complaining myself. I didn’t realize how much I complained until I tried to do a 1 week fast. Then another, and so on. I thought my oldest complained a lot – and thought I was “just stating the truth.” Um, no. Geez. Anyway, so when I prayed that the Lord would give me wisdom in dealing with my oldest child’s unthankfulness and complaining He had me stop complaining first. Once I got the hang of being content with things, then He gradually started working on her. But it took years to undo what my own attitude had wrought.

NICOLE: We have done negativity fasts before. Maybe it’s time I do another one. Maybe I will go about it ninja style and see what happens.

JENNIFER: Nicole, I feel for you and I get what you are saying about living on a budget. I have lost so much. It is like a slow burning fire. Stuff I had as a child, a teen. Stuff that was mine broken. I know it is STUFF, but it hurts still. Some stuff they shouldn’t have even had their hands on. I finally had to tell my mom a few years back NO MORE BOOKS because at the time my oldest would rip them up. It devastated me. Now he loves to read and understands, but has been a long processes.

Recently I just got a new fridge and I discovered permanent marker on the edge.  That was my youngest. It will be 13 years of going through this slow burning fire. I am not sure if it will ever stop. My middle son wants an iPad, and I am like it isn’t coming from me, because I know what would happen in less than a month’s time. They are still too rough. This is why I LOVE netflix and shockwave – I don’t have DVDs getting scratched. I have had to throw away so many dvds because of that or I step on one because it wasn’t put away.

SIGH I know I took a long time to look and feel grateful for things. I was almost a teen myself… but that too can all be part of the ADHD personality. It was work for me to show a smile. My mother had a long convo with me about it too. Now I have no problems “showing” it.

Kids today want this and this and this and this… I am not saying those here that I am not happy for you I am. My priorities are elsewhere paying off loans. So I don’t have the “extras” that many teens today seem to have before they leave home. When Matt says he wants this and that… I didn’t have them as a kid and I still don’t have them 20 years later. Again, partly my choice. Partly because is it necessary. For over a year now I have wanted a Kindle of sorts… but again my priorities are not to get one. Other things need to be taken care of and when I do… it will be mine if they boys use I will be right there they will not have free rein with it. Yeah, okay I have a huge chip on my shoulder too.

PAM: Nicole, you said that your frustration is because you have sacrificed a lot financially for you to be home, and that is very true I’m sure. Remember though, this was your choice, not your son’s, and he will grow into the knowledge and understanding of what that all means, but not for quite a few years yet. He can hear you tell him the sacrifices, but he is too young to really understand that. He is also a child who is not really mature enough yet to understand the time/money concepts of things. That, too will come with age, maturity, experience. He will not need drastic intervention on your part, he just needs your continued love, example and time. He is only young for such a brief period of life. Enjoy and watch the beauty of your son continue to emerge into his adulthood.

SHANNON: Jennifer, some of that is just kids. My house is experiencing that again since my 2yo daughter is an artist. She’s mostly gotten pencil, which comes off pretty easily, but she got some normal crayon and that was a bugger to get off the walls. A whole box of Mr. Clean Erasers and it’s mostly gone. *sigh* So I totally identify with not doing certain things because your kids can’t handle it. For us, we have had little ones for so long that my kids have never had small Legos. They are a horrible choking hazard, so they don’t get them, even though I’m sure they would love them. Maybe if we don’t have another baby after this one, in a few years she’ll be old enough and my boys can do some Legos and other stuff with small pieces.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that you aren’t alone, and that it will get better. Once they get past about 5 or 6, my kids are much better about a LOT of this sort of thing. {{HUGS}}
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