Within moments of birth, a child’s life is driven by his or her needs. Their first cry begins years of demands, and the demands get more insistent and determined as the child grows. By the time a child is two, he or she is determined that they have to fight to get what they want. That’s when they begin to say “no” with force and stamp their tiny feet in protest, or throw tantrums to persuade their parents to give them what they want. It often works, so they do it again and a pattern is established.

Because of that, we have to start counteracting their natural tendency as soon as possible. Our challenge is to raise thankful, rather than demanding, children.

No parent sets out to raise an ungrateful, materialistic child who is totally wrapped up with things, but it happens all too easily in our money-oriented society.

So, as parents, we need to be proactive in modeling truth. To be an example, we need to face our own tendency toward materialism. What are we communicating to our kids by our purchases and aspirations? Are we teaching them that people matter more than things? We need to be brutally honest with ourselves as we consider our attitudes toward money and things.

If you realize you have a problem with materialism, how can you break old ways of thinking and establish new ones?

In Matthew 6:19-24 Jesus challenges us to think differently. He said,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… …No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (ESV)

One of the simplest ways to combat materialism (the continual desire for something more) is by learning to recognize and be thankful for all your blessings. Are you glad that you have food in the house? Thank God for it in your heart and mention how grateful you are to the kids as you prepare their lunch. Don’t turn it into a sermon about how some kids are starving or how they should be grateful, just tell them how thankful you are.

As you develop a sense of thankfulness, make sure you recognize those blessings that are not material. Don’t just thank God for food, clothing, and shelter, but thank him for the intangible blessings he provides. When a friend calls, thank God for that and mention to your kids how grateful you were for the connection with someone you care about. If you read a novel you enjoy, tell your kids what a gift it was to learn something wonderful from the story. As your child does something you appreciate, thank God for her and tell her how grateful you are for what she just did. We do want to live humbly and thankfully as Jesus did, and as we do so, our kids can’t help but notice.

Gratitude is a decision, not a feeling. The psalmist says, “But I will give repeated thanks to the Lord, praising him to everyone”(Psalm 109:30 NLT)

Here’s a great suggestion for helping your kids to decide to be grateful: create a “thankful” board. Each day ask everyone in the family to write one thing they are thankful for on a chalkboard or whiteboard. If little ones are too young to write, they could draw a picture. This is a great way to engage the whole family and practice gratitude every day.

Another excellent suggestion comes from Anne Peterson in her Bible study, “Model Gratefulness.” She recommends asking the following questions when watching a commercial with your children:

1. Would you like to have this product (toy, breakfast cereal, etc.)? If so, why?

2. What if you were never able to buy this product? Would you always be unhappy?

3. Will this product help you to love God more? Why or why not?

4. Will you be happy once we buy this product, or will you then want something else?

It’s hard work to raise grateful children who aren’t looking for material possessions to make them happy, just as it’s hard to be the kind of people who model that. But it is possible and definitely worth the effort.

JoHannah Reardon has written a family devotional called Proverbs for Kids that can help you discuss your faith with your children.

Read an earlier post by JoHannah here.