How to Help Your Kids Be Thankful

10 tips to replace common whining with gratitude.

Janel Breitenstein

Does your family have a whiner?

My second child, who is 5 years old, has managed to bring whining to an art form. We could wander into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and find his friends, his grandparents, his favorite video games, and a Chuck E. Cheese inside, but my son would have no problem finding something that was not quite up to his expectations.

Another mom asked me recently if we had a whining and ingratitude issue in our family like she does in hers. Uh, definitely. But to tell the truth, my second-born isn’t the only one in our family who has a problem with ungratefulness and complaining.

Unfortunately, I have to wonder how much of it he’s caught from his mother. It’s not something you’d see unless you lived with me. This is more of an x-ray issue. You’d see my problem if you saw my heart.

Choosing to Thank God Instead of Complain

Recently, I read a book titled “One Thousand Gifts,” by Ann Voskamp. A mother of six, Ann found herself transformed by a challenge to list one thousand things for which she’s thankful. So I pulled out a spiral notebook and got started writing my own list.

Here’s what I didn’t anticipate: The process of combing the day for things I’m thankful for is replacing my old way of seeing the world. It turns my eyes from all the things that aren’t going my way — even from the discouragement of legitimate problems — to the gifts God keeps piling up, just dumping them in stacks and stacks into my life.

In essence, it helps me choose joy.

Refusing to complain is a good discipline for my mouth. But to transform my heart, God actually replaced my complaining by helping me see His goodness and worship Him for it.

As I thought about cultivating the ground for the gratitude God wants to grow in my kids’ hearts, I was grateful for some of Ann’s suggestions. As part of your daily routine, she suggests, cover a window one sticky note at a time with things for which your kids are thankful. We covered a huge picture in the kitchen. The non-writers got help or drew pictures.

Another of Ann’s suggestions is to help children start thankfulness journals of their own. We started one at the beginning of the new school year. I have talked my 7-year-old down from his initial well-intentioned goal of 1 billion items, and he is now going for a hundred items for which he’s grateful.

On that note, here are a few other ideas to help replace whining with thankfulness.

Practical Ways to Cultivate Thankfulness

1. When Your Child Begins the Whining Wind-Up, Talk About His or Her Heart

“Right now, I think you’re being tempted to focus on what you want. I need you to take your focus off your circumstances and desires. I want you to choose to focus on how big God is and the blessings He’s giving you right now, this instant. Can you stop and think of three good things He’s giving you right now? Then I’ll hear what you have to say to me in a calm voice.”

2. Talk About Things You’re Thankful For

Do this out loud and frequently about things big and small.

3. Be Consistent With a Zero-Tolerance Policy on Whining

Make the consequences known, and follow through swiftly when your child complains.

4. Let Your Kids See You Thanking Others

Let them see you thanking waitresses, cleaning staff, Sunday school teachers and other “unseen” helpers. Prompt them quietly to thank people who serve them. Make thank-you notes a normal project in your home.

5. Do Not, I Repeat, Do Not Give Your Children Anything They Ask for in a Whining Voice

Author Ginger Plowman allows her children to come back two minutes after whining and offer the request again, the polite way.

6.  Don’t Pick up Your Children Until They Quit Whining

This is a tip I learned from my aunt. Otherwise, I might be teaching them that they can get picked up if they whine. Instead, this reinforces self-control and self-soothing. Keep in mind that whining is different from crying.

7. When You’re Driving, Set a Thankfulness Challenge

See if together you can think of 50 things to be thankful for before you get to swimming lessons, or 25 things before you get to the library.

8. Expose Your Kids to the Realities of Life in Other Parts of the World

Sites like compassion.com are great for giving kids a window outside of the wealthy bubble of our culture. You can also request their free magazine for kids and receive their prayer calendar every month.

9. Read Some Books on Thankfulness Together

Like Barbara Rainey’s “Growing Together in Gratitude.” Talk specifically with your kids about how this relates to whining and complaining. Read picture books that talk about kids dealing with poverty and how we can respond with generosity. Pray for the real kids living in those realities, and thank God for the comforts you enjoy.

10. Memorize Some Scriptures About Gratitude Together

Small rewards may help. Some to start with: Psalm 16:5-11, Psalm 100 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Your turn. Please help those of us caught in the drama of whining! What practical tips do you have to stomp out whining and cultivate contentment? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

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This article originally appeared in MomLife Today, FamilyLife's blog for moms.

© 2011 FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Adapted with permission. For more helpful information on strengthening your marriage and family, please visit www.familylife.com.

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