Gratitude: The Antidote to Entitlement

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How to Foster Gratitude in the Lives of the Kids We Love


Julie Smyth

I think it is safe to say none of us want to raise entitled kids. That was one of the things on my “My Kids Will Never” list, even before I became a mom. Everyone has one of those lists in their head right?


Then, I actually had kids (insert knowing nod from all parents here). I always understood that gratitude is so much more than please and thank you, but I also knew learning about gratitude had to start small when my kids were small.


“What do you say?”


“What’s the magic word?”


I can’t count how many times I used to say those two little phrases in the early days. It was all about repetition and modelling back then and I was proud (maybe a little too proud) that my toddlers would quickly and consistently (and adorably) respond with “pees” and hand motions for thank you by 18 months.


I remember one instance that showed me I had much more parenting to do around instilling gratefulness in my kids. Our church was participating in Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse. We were given shoe boxes to fill with gifts and supplies for children in a developing country and I thought this would be an intentional way to help my kids stretch those “gratitude muscles”. I decided it would be fun and more tangible to have my kids choose the items to fill boxes for kids the same age and gender they were. We talked about this every night at dinner for about a week. We talked about how everything that we have is a gift from God, meant to be shared and how our thankfulness to God helps other people know how great He is.


It was 6:00 on a Tuesday evening when we set off to the dollar store to choose the items, ready (or so I thought) to practise gratitude…cue temper tantrum in aisle 9. My six year old was ok with choosing items for another person as long as he was able to have the exact same items for himself. Somehow he thought this was a “one for me, one for you” type scenario. When he realized that wasn’t the case, let’s just say everyone in aisles 6-11 understood he wasn’t happy.

True gratitude comes from a genuine understanding and awareness of all the blessings we have – whether we believe those things are deserved or not.

I guess all that verbal repetition and modelling I had “taught” hadn’t quite been “caught” by my kids yet. Sadly those sweet little “pees-es” and hand motioned “thank you-s” in those early days hadn’t actually translated into gratefulness at all. It was a glaring reminder to me that gratitude is so much more than just rehearsed behaviour. Gratitude is actually a heart posture.


True gratitude comes from a genuine understanding and awareness of all the blessings we have – whether we believe those things are deserved or not. As a follower of Jesus, I know I have so much to be grateful for. Jesus paid for the cost of my sin with his own life and in so doing gave me new life, new belonging, new identity and new purpose. Genuine gratitude for those God-given gifts is a daily practice I am called to live out.


That doesn’t mean gratitude comes naturally, in fact the opposite is all too true of my heart. I am quick to grumble, quick to be disappointed and quick to worry. I have to pray daily for God to replace my old, self-centered tendencies with new ones like gratitude. The Bible teaches gratitude is a habit that requires effort and intentionality on my part. I must fight daily to see the world through the lens of gratitude and help my kids to see through that same lens.


If you know me you know I am an avid list maker, so of course, I have compiled a list over the years of ideas to stretch those “gratitude muscles” in my kids (who actually aren’t kids any more). If you share my appreciation for a good list-please enjoy:


  • Gratitude journal or album – make gratitude an intentional part of dinner time or bedtime conversations.
  • Prompt “please” and “thank you” until it sticks.
  • Have kids write/draw thank you notes when they receive gifts.
  • Intentional conversations – Q: Who is someone you would like to do something special for? Then help them do it.
  • Participate as a family in some kind of fundraiser.
  • Give kids money as part of their birthday gift or Christmas present and let them choose which non-profit to give it to.
  • Donate toys and clothes before every birthday, Christmas and Easter.
  • Learn about a country together and make a donation to relief work or a charitable organization in that country.
  • Volunteer together as a family at a non-profit organization.
  • Brainstorm more ideas together.


Have fun stretching those “gratitude muscles” as a family. It takes effort but it’s worth it because gratitude is the antidote to entitlement…and no one wants to raise entitled kids.


Looking for more information on how to instill gratitude in your kids, check out Modern Parents, Vintage Values: Instilling Character in Today’s Kids by Sissy Goff.

Meet the author

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Julie Smyth
Julie is married to her highschool sweetheart and the mom of two adult kids. Julie is an avid tea drinker, soup-maker and delights in turning old junk into new treasures. She is a proud garbage picker and dreams of one day being on a Canadian version of “American Pickers”

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