Cultivating Gratitude in a Child's Heart

We were out running errands at the store one afternoon. As my eyes scanned the shelves for the next thing on my list, I heard a little voice at my side say, "Mom, can you buy me something?" "It's not a buying day," I reminded my son.

He tried again. "Just buy me something, one little thing."

Something. Just one little thing. Isn't that how it starts? The accumulation of one little thing at a time adds up to many, many things. Most of which we don't even care about and soon forget.

As we drove home from the store, I talked to my kids about gratitude.

"The reason you wanted me to buy you one little thing is because you have too many little things. The more we have, the more we want. And we don't appreciate what we have because we are always looking at what we don't have. Instead of thinking about what you don't have, let’s talk about what you do have. What has God given you that you can thank him for?" I ask.

From the back seat, I hear, "My room. Our house."

"Let's get more specific, tell me what things in your room you are thankful for."

We spent the rest of the ride home with my boys taking turns listing the blessings God had given them. "Our Lego police station." "The Hotwheels track." "My books." "My friends and family."

I understand my children’s desire for just "one little thing." My own heart is the same way. I always want more. My time is spent looking at things online instead of thanking God for what I do have. I pin, add to wish lists, and save to my cart for later. I tell myself I'm just comparing prices and looking for the best deal. But in looking at all the things I want, I don't see all that I have.

Like my children, I too need to cultivate a thankful heart. And not just by praying a broad, "Thank you God for all my blessings," type of prayer that blurs the many gifts altogether into one. True gratitude is thankful for actual specific gifts, not just the idea of them. In giving thanks for each gift God's given me, I realize just how much I have and how much God loves and provides. Gratitude moves my eyes from the source of my distraction to my Source for all things.

As the kids counted their own gifts, one by one, my son stopped begging for a toy. They returned home with greater realization that they have more than enough. They didn't need just one little thing to make them happy, for they already have all they need.

Is giving thanks a possible cure for a child's "gimme's"? I don't know. But I do know that it has helped change my own ungrateful heart into one that is thankful and humbled by all that God has done. The accumulation of each and every specific blessing has added up to many, many blessings. So many, that I could never stop counting.

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

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Christina Fox (@toshowthemjesus) is a homeschooling mom, licensed mental health counselor, writer, and coffee drinker, not necessarily in that order. She lives in sunny South Florida with her husband of sixteen years and their two boys. You can find her sharing her faith journey at To Show Them Jesus and on Facebook.