FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Teaching Kids to be Thankful

with Barbara Rainey | November 2, 2009
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Would you like your children to be more grateful? Barbara Rainey tells what she did to try and cultivate a heart of gratitude in her children. Today you’ll also hear Barbara explain why we struggle to be grateful for God’s blessings.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Would you like your children to be more grateful? Barbara Rainey tells what she did to try and cultivate a heart of gratitude in her children. Today you’ll also hear Barbara explain why we struggle to be grateful for God’s blessings.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Would you like your children to be more grateful?

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Teaching Kids to be Thankful

With Barbara Rainey
November 02, 2009
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Bob:  Why aren’t our children more grateful?   Well Barbara says it is simple because they like us are selfish!  

Barbara:  My daughter, Ashley, called me and said, “Mom, I have figured out what my problem is.”  I said, “Okay?”  She said, “It is Daniel!”  I laughed!  Daniel was her 14 month old at the time and I said, “Oh!  Why is Daniel the problem?” 

She said, “Well, I have realized that I have been ..... When he fusses I just pick him up to make him quiet because I can’t stand all the noise.”  Well, the reason Daniel is her problem is because Daniel was born selfish.  He wants what he wants, when he wants it.  It is our job, as parents, to train our children to be grateful.   They are not born naturally grateful.  And neither are we!

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 2nd.  Our host is President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine.  Today we are going to explore the link between selfishness and a lack of gratitude as we seek to raise children who are thankful. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today!   Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.

Dennis:  Your kids were born grateful, weren’t they, Bob? 

Bob:  I was just going to say that was not very nice what your wife said.  I mean it is true.

Dennis:  Think about that!

Bob:  But, it is not very nice.  It’s true!  It is just not very nice to call our kids selfish from the start.

Dennis:  14 months old!

Bob:  But, they are!

Dennis:  What a picture of selfishness!  I mean, are they cute and cuddly and loveable and all that, but do they want what they want when they want it?

Bob:  They have to be taught how to be grateful, which is what we are going to spend some time unpacking this week and we have your wife joining us to do that; Barbara, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Barbara:  Thank you, Bob!

Bob:  Nice to have you here!  This is something that for whatever reason, this has been a passion of yours for years.

Barbara:  I have thought a lot about gratitude and I think that a lot of it is born out of the fact that my children were not grateful, and it drove me crazy.  It was a felt need!

Bob:  You figured, I have got to fix this somehow?

Dennis:  Here she is a crazy woman coming on FamilyLife Today!

Bob:  It also ties to the fact that your favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving.

Barbara:  That is right!

Bob:  You wrote a book a number of years ago that was the story of the Pilgrims’ coming to America, “Thanksgiving a Time to Remember.”  What you tried to capture in that book was the remarkable story of a people who were grateful, in spite of incredible hardships.  We whine about a fingernail that tears.

Barbara:  Oh!  Or any number of other things that are so insignificant and trivial and that really impressed me probably more than anything about the story of the pilgrims’ who came on the Mayflower is their heart of gratitude.  They stopped and gave thanks to God for everything in every situation no matter how hard it was.  They had nothing they did not have homes, they didn’t have grocery stores, they didn’t have doctors present when they got sick, and they just had nothing compared to what we do and yet they expressed gratitude and we have everything and we complain all the time.

Dennis:  We make the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims coming over to America such a story book.  The thing I liked about what Barbara did in her book....  By the way, if you don’t have “Thanksgiving a Time to Remember,” I just want to tell every family listening, you need to get this and read it for your kids because the very thing we are talking about here is spelled out in the book.  It will take you into the ...’below deck in the Mayflower’ where it was a stench.  I mean, people throwing up and all sorts of other things, it wasn’t this storybook ‘happily....’

Barbara:  It wasn’t pretty!

Dennis:  It wasn’t! 

Barbara:  And it wasn’t comfortable!

Dennis:  Our kids need to realize that our freedom here as a country came out of great pain, sacrifice, and turmoil. 

Bob:  Well and you have designed a new resource for families this year at Thanksgiving that you are hoping will reinforce this theme of gratitude, right?

Barbara:  I am!  I believe that one of the best teachers for children is hearing stories. So, we have come up with a one week series of devotions to be read to children that are stories of gratitude.  These devotions tell how different people have expressed gratitude in their lives over different situations and the idea is if you are talking to your kids about gratitude everyday for seven days, maybe it will stick a little bit.  It is not going to transform their lives, but maybe it will stick a little bit and it will give you an opportunity to talk with your kids about why it is so important to give thanks in everything. 

Bob:  Well, today we are going to hear the first part of a message you shared with a number of moms; I think it was last thanksgiving, talking about how you cultivate a heart of gratitude in your children. 

Barbara’s Message: 

Even though I love the reason for the Christmas season, and I love a lot of things about Christmas, Thanksgiving really and truly is my favorite holiday.  I love the fall season.  I love Thanksgiving, because it is a time for family and it is uncluttered by a lot of the stress of the Christmas season.  I also love Thanksgiving season because it calls us to practice a biblical command that we don’t do nearly often enough, especially in America and that is to give thanks! 

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 it says this; “In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  It is a command!  And it says, “In EVERYTHING give thanks.”  That is pretty hard to do isn’t it?  It is pretty hard to give thanks in a lot of things in our lives.  Well we are going to talk about WHY we should give thanks and how we can improve our gratitude quotient.

When my kids were growing up I began to read them stories in the Thanksgiving holiday about the Pilgrims.  I was a history major in college and I wanted my kids to know the truth about the beginning days of our country.  I wanted them to know the true facts about our Christian heritage.  So, I began reading them little stories that I would find here and there about the Pilgrims and about our founding of our country.  But, I also wanted my kids to become thankful.  I wanted them to focus on something besides football and food at Thanksgiving.

 I began to teach my kids to be grateful and to talk about what they were thankful for.  So, in the early days when my kids were still really little, I would pull out just ruled notebook paper or construction paper, or whatever we would find, and I would have them practice on Thanksgiving Day writing what they were thankful for.  Then as I began to find more and more of these stories, I began to read them.  Here is one of the ones that my kids loved the best.

It starts like this:

The Mayflower is a small wooden ship with billowing sails was the vessel that God used to bring a group of Christian believers to an unseen land far over the Atlantic.  These Christian men and women, called Pilgrims, believed that God was leading them to establish a new community where they could worship freely.  As Americans, we celebrate Thanksgiving every year because of the profound faith in uncommon courage of these English men and women.  And it is good for us to read their stories and to hear what they did and to hear how they believed God, because it will inspire us to be courageous as well. 

So, in September of 1620, after enduring many delays and difficulties, these Pilgrims finally said their last ‘Good-byes’ and boarded the Mayflower and set sail for the New World.  The food was terrible with brine-soaked beef and pork in salt.  The rooms for passengers were crowded and below deck.  Conditions were miserable, cramped quarters, seasick people vomiting into pails if they were able to find a pail in time.  A foul mixture of odors grew in such an environment.

Those kind of stories of the deprivation and the difficulties that they went through really helped my kids to be grateful, because all of a sudden as they listened to this story and they listened to these condition it made them realize how much they had and how much they had to be grateful for. 

Well, I want to give you three things for why we struggle with gratitude.  Why do we as people struggle with having gratitude?  I think the first reason is because we have so much.  Our prosperity is breeding a nation of ungrateful people.  And secondly, I think we are ungrateful, because by nature we are just selfish.  We are born that way!  By nature we all want what we want when we want it.  We want to control our own lives.  We believe we are entitled to so much, and when we don’t get what we want we complain about it. 

My daughter, Ashley, called me last spring, I picked up the phone, and she said, “Mom, I have figured out what my problem is.”  I said, “Okay?”  She said, “It is Daniel!” 

I laughed!  Daniel was her 14 month old at the time and I said, “Oh!  Why is Daniel the problem?”  And she said, “Well, I think he’s the one that is driving me crazy!  And then she began to talk about various things.   “I know he has got allergies, and I know he is the last one, so he has to be louder to be heard;” she has five boys, by-the-way.  So she said, “I have realized that when he fusses I just pick him up to make him quiet because I can’t stand all the noise.  And I need a break.  So, rather than training him to wait or to be patient, I just pick him up.  I realized that he is running my life and he is my problem.” 

Well, the reason Daniel is her problem is because he was born selfish.  He wants what he wants, when he wants it.  And it is our job, as parents, to train our children to be grateful.   They are not born naturally grateful.  And neither are we! 

The third reason I think gratitude is difficult, why it is so hard for us to be grateful as people, is because we are often disappointed in life.  Things don’t work out the way we would like for them to.  And it makes us sad, makes us disappointed, and it causes us to be ungrateful.

This came home to our family in a real dramatic way when our daughter Rebecca, who is my fourth child, had a little girl named Molly.  Molly only lived seven days!  And in the midst of those seven days of Molly’s life, I realized how important it was to give thanks for everything because God is in control and we are not. 

There was nothing we could do for little Molly!  There was nothing the doctors could do for little Molly!  And we were left knowing that we had no other choice but to give thanks to God, and to take from His hand, what He had given us, what He had given them and what He had given us as a family.  And that is the attitude that the Pilgrims had.  

They suffered much, but they knew that God was in control and they took what God gave them with great gratitude.  I have to say, that while giving thanks to God in that week of Molly’s life wasn’t really that difficult for me and I can’t explain it except that I had no other choice! 

Complaining would have changed nothing!  It wasn’t what my daughter needed, it wasn’t what my son-in-law needed, and there just wasn’t any other choice, but to give thanks to God for what He was doing even though we didn’t understand it and we didn’t like it. 

I think being grateful is hard for us because we are naturally selfish and because we have so much and expect so much, but also because we are often disappointed in life.  We don’t like being disappointed.  It doesn’t fit our plan!  It is not what we had in mind.  And so, our tendency, our natural inborn tendency, is to complain and to gripe instead of giving thanks.  But God calls us to be a grateful people and to take everything from His hand with thanksgiving.

Well, why is gratitude so important?  I have three reasons for this as well.  First of all gratitude is important, because ... A) It’s core! Gratitude is a heart that trusts God.  It is an expression of faith in Him.  There is a verse that I wonder how many of you know, and it goes like this:  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”  How many of you know that verse?  Grumbling means murmuring in discontent, it means arguing it means disputing, it means disagreeing with.  

Well, I want to show you what it looks like.  We have a wall of children’s photographs in our office, and this photograph is my very favorite; partly, because it looks a lot like my grandson, but partly because it really is an image of what I do so often in my heart toward God.  And this is the photograph.  Don’t you love it?  I just keep looking at this little guy and his little furrowed brow and his squinty eyes and you can just see he just stomping his feet at the same time.  But this is a picture of what griping and complaining looks like.  How many of you have seen it in your house?  More times than you would like?  And while we think that this picture is really cute, and this little guy is just adorable in the photograph, it is not so cute when it is your child.  It is not so cute when he is doing this to you, is it? 

It makes me wonder, “What must God feel when I do this to Him?  When I cross my arms, and I furrow my brow, and I stomp my foot at Him, and say, “That’s not what I wanted in life, that is not the way I wanted it to be.”  Or maybe I don’t do it so physically and dramatically, and maybe in my heart I am just unhappy.  I am not grateful!   You don’t have to do this and stomp your feet.  You can be ungrateful in your heart and not express thanksgiving to God.  I don’t think God likes it with us any more than we like it with our children. 

Philippians 2:4, the verse I just quoted, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” is a verse that I make my kids memorize.  I thought if I got them to memorize the verse it would cure some of the griping and complaining in their lives.  But, it didn’t work!  It wasn’t the miracle cure I had hoped for. 

I realized that the reason why is because gratitude is a choice! They were choosing to be complaining and griping.  They were choosing to be upset about the way things were.  Being thankful is a matter of the will.  It is a matter of obedience!  It is a muscle that needs to be exercised in our hearts.  Our hearts choose thankfulness or they choose complaining.  So, even though I had my kids memorize the verse, it was still their choice if they were going to complain and gripe, or if they were going to be thankful.  And the same is true for us.

Secondly, gratitude is so important, because God commands us to be grateful and to express thanksgiving to Him.  Ephesians 5:20 says, “Always giving thanks for all things in the name of Jesus Christ.”  It says, “Always.”  Not just when we feel like it, not when it feels good and circumstances are the way I want them to be, but always.  Always covers everything! 

And then it says in that verse, “for all things.”  Not just the good things, not just the pleasant things, but the things we may not like, the thing we don’t understand the things that are difficult, and hard and disappointing.  God wants us to give thanks!  Why does He want us to give thanks?  Because it expresses faith in Him that He knows what He is doing and that He always acts in good toward us.  His intentions are always good.  They are always kind.  They are always loving. So everything He gives us, everything He allows into our lives is because He loves us.  He wants us to trust him and say thank you Father for what You are doing and for what You are allowing in my life. 

And then third, God regards complaining as a serious offense.  In the book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14 there is the story of the Israelites and how the Israelites did not believe God, but instead complained against Him.  They chose fear instead of faith and they rebelled against Him.  As a result, God allowed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years.  I wrote about this in my book, too.  On a section titled, “The difference between grumbling and gratitude.” 

Does it ever seem surprising to you that God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years because they grumbled?  Anybody think that?  That has always puzzled me!  Grumbling just seems like such a minor offense compared with murder and some these bad things.  Why would God make them wander for forty years for just complaining?  I mean really!  My kids may have spent 30 minutes in their room for complaining, but forty years?  Wow!  What a severe discipline!  Ouch!  It seems really harsh to us from our perspective, doesn’t it?   Clearly God is not pleased with grumbling.  It does not make Him happy to hear his children to complain constantly.  

Being grateful is a choice.  It is not a feeling that is dependent on our circumstances, as we clearly see in the Pilgrim’s lives.  They believed that God was in control; providence they called it.  They responded to the circumstances from a perspective that said God has allowed this for our good. 

John Piper has said this, “Gratitude is past oriented dependence and faith is future oriented dependence.  Both forms of dependence are humble, self-forgetting, and God exalting.  If we do not believe we are deeply dependent on God, for all that we have or hope to have, then the very spring of gratitude and of faith runs dry.  You see they’re connected.  If we are not grateful, then we are not expressing faith.  They go together!” 

So, gratitude is an expression of faith in God, in who He is and what He is allowing in our lives.  Grumbling is evil, because it says my wishes and my desires are more important than God’s wishes and God’s desires.  And that is why God punished the people of Israel for forty years.  Their intentions were, “I want my way, I want what I want, I don’t want what You (God) want, and He (God) had to make and example of them.  It even says in 1 Corinthians that they are an example to us about how God feels about grumbling and complaining.  Grumbling is a complete lack of faith in God’s providence and His goodness.

Bob:  Well we have been listening today to the first part of a message from Barbara Rainey speaking to a group of moms on the subject of gratitude.  It is interesting to me how seriously grumbling is taken in the Bible.  We tend to think of it as one of those little sins and we excuse it in our own lives and in the lives of our kids.  God doesn’t just turn away from grumbling He addresses it head on. 

Barbara:  Yes!  And you know, that is one of the things about the story that has always been so stunning to me.  That God made the Israelites wander for forty years because they complained.  I think about my perspective on grumbling; I may have sent my kids to their room for 30 minutes, but 40 years is a pretty dramatic judgment on something that we take so lightly. 

Bob:  The habit of grumbling is an easy one to fall into, again because it is a part of our sin nature.  And a hard one to break isn’t it?

Barbara:  Yes!  It really is!

Dennis:   You know, as Barbara was talking I was thinking, “I wonder what Webster’s Dictionary has to say about grumbling?”  So I grabbed it off the shelf here and it says—

Grumble:  to mutter in discontent.  When we gripe and grumble and complain, what are we ultimately saying?  I don’t like my circumstances; I do not like the lot I have been given.

Whether we are children or adults I think we have to be called away from grumbling and griping and complaining to the concept of contentment and resting in the fact that there is a God and He is in charge and we are not. 

We can’t always dictate what our circumstances are.  We are not in control!  And so, we have to learn this lesson of being grateful and being thankful and having gratitude.  Bob, I have to tell you, Barbara has been talking about this project of writing seven devotionals for families for ... I don’t know......

Barbara:  Years!

Dennis:  Maybe a decade!  She has been talking about this for a long time!  I am really excited about this resource because it is seven different stories around seven issues:

Giving thanks for discomfort - there is a story about that, about fleas.  Kids like that one!

Finding the good in the bad.

Being thankful when betrayed.  Anybody listening who has been betrayed.

Be thankful for handicaps – limitations

Being thankful for providence

Being thankful for deliverance...

And giving thanks when no rescue happens.

How could we thank God when it seems like He hasn’t heard our prayers and didn’t deliver us from that what was causing the discomfort.

Bob:   We think that this tool that Barbara has put together, this devotional guide, Growing Together in Gratitude, is going to be so helpful for families that we are making it available this month to folks who call or write or request it. 

All we ask is that you make a donation of any amount that supports FamilyLife Today.  So, you can either go online at, make a donation of any amount, and just type the word “GRATITUDE” in the key code box on the online donation form and we will send you the devotional. 

Again, we appreciate whatever you can do to help support the ministry financially, but we want you to have this devotional guide, so you make a donation of any amount this month and we will send the guide out to you  or call, toll-free, 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329.  You can make your donation over the phone and just ask for Barbara’s brand new devotional for families called, Growing Together in Gratitude.   I think that this is still so new that it’s actually not in stores.  You can’t get it anywhere other than FamilyLife Today.  So, either go online and make a donation, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation and just ask for the gratitude book from Barbara Rainey. 

Let me just say thanks in advance for your financial support of the ministry.  Let me also encourage you if you don’t have Barbara’s Thanksgiving book, Thanksgiving a Time to Remember that tells the Thanksgiving story.  That is a tremendous resource to have, to read together as a family as you prepare for Thanksgiving or actually on Thanksgiving Day. 

There is more information of how you can get that book on our web site, or again, if you need information, call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and we can make arrangements to have Barbara’s Thanksgiving a Time to Remember book sent to you.  And of course we can get it there in plenty of time so you can have it this year for Thanksgiving. 

Now tomorrow, we are going to hear part two of Barbara’s message on gratitude and we are going to talk more about how we can cultivate a heart of gratitude in our children.  I hope you can be with us for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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