By Wendy Anne Clark
Are your kids content and full of gratitude or do they whine and complain?
Sometimes discontent can seem reasonable in light of the circumstances our kids may face, and parents can fall into allowing and even accepting their ungracious and ungrateful kids’ whining and complaining. Some parents will even tell you that having “an attitude” is a natural part of growing up.
Don’t believe them.
When you see the tiny sprouts of discontent and ungratefulness begin to spring up in your children, jump into action and weed out the attitude right away.
The problem with discontent is that if left unchecked, it always grows, and it bears rotten fruit, things like envy, boastfulness, anger, bitterness, and rebellion.
But what is the appropriate plan of action? If you are at the beginning stages of your kids’ complaining, and your kids are young, you can make it a habit to stop them any time a complaint passes their lips. Draw attention to the complaint and ask your child to start over with a different attitude and grateful words. Learn Bible verses about gratitude and thankfulness together as a family. Read and tell stories about grateful people.
What if the whining and complaining has become commonplace, and your child is bitter about something? Some kids are bitter about where they live (or don’t live), the family life they have (or don’t have), or all sorts of other things that involve comparing themselves to others and seeing themselves as lacking or even suffering. The quickest way out of bitterness is to take the focus off of self and focus on giving to and doing for others who have even greater needs and bigger challenges to face.
Strategically push ungrateful kids into situations where they are uncomfortable and confronted by the needs of others. You can do this by volunteering together at a nursing home, food bank, homeless shelter, or rescue mission. You will need to join in and work side-by-side with your child; the acts of service should not seem like a punishment but part of growing and learning together as a family.
State as a matter of fact—not up for debate—that the family will be serving together and where and when that will be. Talk about why acts of service are important. Prepare your kids in advance, so they know what to expect.
If you haven’t ever stepped out to serve in your community as a family, this is a good time of year to give it a try. There are lots of opportunities to serve locally. Try to pick service that involves interaction with people in need, rather than doing a project that is separate from the people whose needs it meets. This will help your kids form a picture of the real-life people in need—many of whom are very grateful even though they have so little.
Finally, pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of your kids, to soften them and shape them. Then pay attention to the ways that the Holy Spirit works in your kids and be sure to cooperate with the things the Holy Spirit is doing.
For example, if your child wants to be generous and give away toys—nice ones, maybe expensive ones—to children who would enjoy them, don’t get in the way of that generosity. Encourage your child to follow through. Praise your child for his act of generosity. Resist the temptation to reward your child by replacing the toys. Let your child experience the good feeling that generosity with sacrifice can bring.
If your child has big dreams and wants to raise money to send to people in need, be careful not to reduce her dreams to “manageable” size. Encourage and help your child and do your part to make those dreams a reality.
I was recently encouraged and challenged by the real-life story of a family in Australia who raised $2,000 to buy practical gifts of goats and chickens and other farm animals and supplies* for families in need in other countries. When trying to get their children (ages 9 and 7) to pick out a gift or two to buy out of a missions catalog, the parents were stopped by their kids who wanted to buy all of the gifts. I like that the parents then went on to figure out what it would take as a family to make that happen, including giving up their own Christmas gifts and being creative about raising money.
They raised the money needed in 4 months.
Mom said of her two children, “They were so very grateful and proud to have the opportunity to help lots of people.”1
Let’s all raise such grateful and generous kids. What a place the world would be!
*Heres what the family gave: two chickens, a goat, two rabbits, two lambs, two pigs, a cow, a BioSand water filter, a blanket, a Jesus Well, a sewing machine, 200 Gospel tracts, and nine Bibles.
1”Giving Everything—Two Children Changing Lives.” Gospel for Asia’s Send! November 2012. PP 14-15. Print. (www.gfa.org.)