How to Plant Seeds of Gratitude in Your Child’s Heart This Thanksgiving

November 23, 2021

Joanna Teigen

Our youngest son was still munching his way through a huge stash of Halloween candy when his birthday rolled around last week. He’s been basking in treats and gifts, extra attention and a wallet stuffed with birthday moolah–all while Christmas is right around the corner with even MORE blessings to enjoy. We love our son and the chance to express how special he is to our family, but this season does tempt him to feel like the center of the universe every year.

That’s why we’re grateful that Thanksgiving lands smack in the middle of these weeks of abundance for our child. For  your family and ours, it’s the perfect time to plant seeds of gratitude in our children’s hearts. Today our sister in both faith and writing, Christie Thomas, shares some inspiring and practical ways to do just that. She offers tried-and-true tips to turn grumbling to gratitude and move our families’ hearts toward Christ every day of the year.

(For more insight into connecting with your kids and building a foundation of faith in their lives, check out our recent podcast conversation with Christie HERE!)



It was Mother’s Day, and my kid was CRABBY.

Like, Not-Quite-Preteen-Angst-Crabby, the kind that only comes when a privileged child sees someone else having a special day and decides that it has now become The Worst Day Ever because they are not the centre of attention.

  • He didn’t want to bring his scooter to the park, until we got there and he realized he really did want some wheels. Oh, the misery when he realized we would not turn around and go back home to collect his scooter or bike.
  • He didn’t get a special drink at lunch. Apparently he’s over having clean water to drink. That’s so 2020.
  • It was too windy.
  • It was too sunny.
  • Someone yelled at him on the slide because they were playing a game and thought he was playing too, but he thought they were mad at him.
  • Someone else got to the swing before he did.
  • When he finally got to the swings, he decided to test each one to see which was the least squeaky. In the middle of his experiment, someone else took the least-squeaky swing. Abomination, right?

I snapped. (Mentally.)

As he wailed about having to swing on the squeaky swing, he found his arm caught in the Mom Vice.

Have you ever experienced the Mom Vice?

My mom used to use this trick. It involves long fingernails, two naughty children, and one super irritated mother. Mom grabs her children’s arms and hauls them off. It looks fairly gentle on the outside but when the hauling is done, there are some nice fingernail-sized dents left in the arms to remind the children of their naughtiness.

Fortunately for my son, I keep my fingernails short. But he did get hauled off the swing and onto the grass behind the playground.

I seethed, but I knew that if I whined about it being My Day and complained about his attitude ruining My Day, then I’d really be no better.

It was time to take the high ground, but I needed some help. I breathed a quick, desperate prayer, asking God to help me regain my cool and help this little ingrate see the light. (I might have been an ingrate needing to see the light at that moment too.)

I bent down and said, “This attitude stinks.”

That much was obvious even to him. He stared at his toes digging into the grass.

“You have a choice here.”

That got him to at least look up. No eye contact, but at least he was listening.

“I know you’re having a bad day. But you can CHOOSE to look at all the bad stuff and focus on it, or you can CHOOSE to find the good stuff and look at that.

“If you only look for the bad stuff, you’ll find bad stuff. There is always bad. But if you CHOOSE to look for the good stuff, you’ll always find it. Even on the very worst of all days, there is good.

Part of me just wanted to work the words in, like stain remover on a dirty shirt. But in my heart, I knew it wasn’t just my son that needed this reminder. I lowered my voice as tears leaked down my face.

“Even on the day my sister died, there was good. Because there is ALWAYS good.“

At this point, the lecture over, but the lesson on gratitude had just begun. He was kind of nodding in affirmation by this point, but he still wasn’t totally sold on the idea, so I pushed further.

“I want you to think of 3 things right now that you can be grateful for.”


Apparently the beautiful sunny day and picnic lunch at the playground didn’t come to mind. So I reminded him, “How about this picnic lunch? That’s special, right?”

He nodded. But that wasn’t enough. I made him say it out loud.

“Thank you God for this picnic lunch.”

The next item came a little easier, although I still had to prompt him. The third came quickly, and afterward, he smiled.
Verbal gratitude was like a bright ray of sunshine that chased away the storm cloud that hovered over his afternoon.

The Power of Gratitude

Sometimes you “got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” (Bruce Cockburn)
Gratitude is one powerful way to kick at the darkness.

Gratitude has the power to help us move past anxiety.

Remembering our blessings helps our kids move from entitled to grateful.

Practicing gratitude helps our kids become more generous people.

Making a gratitude list can help bring peace.


Activities to plant seeds of gratitude in your child’s heart

1.  When your child is having a bad day or feeling anxious or worriedget them to make a list of 3-5 things they can be grateful for.

  • DO make them say it out loud.
  • DO make them literally say, “Thank you for ________.”
  • DON’T just let them make a list. It’s important to actually say “thank you”.
  • DO model this for your kids. Speak out the first item on the list!

2.  If ingratitude is a constant struggle with one child, have them make an ongoing list.

  • Start with just a piece of paper. One night I was doing this with one of my other boys, because he was really anxious about school. I started the list while we snuggled in bed, then left it with him to finish.
  • If they love it, buy a gratitude journalor blank journal.


3.  If ingratitude and complaining is a constant struggle for your whole family, make an ongoing family gratitude list.  We like to make family gratitude lists really obvious and fun. 

  • One Thanksgiving we wrote our list on a pumpkin.
  • Another time I put a paper tree on the wall, and we wrote our list on leaves and stuck them to the tree.
  • One Christmas I bought a bulletin board Christmas tree decoration from a teacher supply store. We wrote on little paper gifts, then taped the gifts to the wall under the tree.

4.  Serve others.

  • Serving those who have less will help your kids get perspective on their problems,
  • Serving gives you something specific to refer back to when they’re feeling extra entitled.


Above all, keep praying for your kids. Pray for God to give you His wisdom for those little, teachable moments, and for God to give you a thankful heart too. Encouraging our kids to be thankful is not a quick process, but it is definitely worth it!



Christie Thomas is a wife and mom of three boys, an author, and the creator of Little Shoots, Deep Roots, an online community dedicated to helping moms connect with their sons and confidently disciple them in Christ. She and her family make their home in Alberta, Canada.

Christie is the author of wonderful resources for families including children’s books, Bible studies, and devotionals to share together. The Mother and Son Prayer Journal is a powerful tool to share with your son, inspiring him to become a young man after God’s own heart.



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