Family Relationships, Gratitude, Mothering

Gratitude: Training Our Children to Have Grateful Hearts

Presence not presents quote copy

+Jeanne Takenaka @JeanneTakenaka

This all started with a picture . . .

Though we’ve tried hard to prevent that sense of entitlement in our boys, they’ve have fallen prey to the “I deserve this” mentality. We have never bought them stuff just because they wanted it, never impulsively purchased a candy bar in the check out aisle.

We’ve worked hard to help our boys see nothing truly belongs to us. All that we have (and we have a lot) has been given to us by our good God.

Snowflake on red

So last year (2014) at Christmas time, I was reading something by Ann Voskamp about preparing our children’s hearts for Christmas. One thing she mentioned was to start a gift list.

I’ve kept a gift/gratitude journal for the past few years. I’ve counted over 3,000 gifts, which include anything from the beautiful uniqueness of snowflakes, to hubby coming home safely from a business trip, to the doctor who diagnosed my appendicitis before things got bad. My gifts often include glimpses of God’s touch on creation and in my days.

Red leaves

At the beginning of 2015, hubby and I decided to be intentional about finding gifts in our days, and we asked the boys to do the same. They’re both in training in the practice of being grateful. Learning to see God’s fingerprints in our days is one of the best gifts we can instill in our children.

One boy thought it would be cool to count 2,000 gifts in 2015 (can you say, “over-achiever?”). We determined how many gifts we’d need to find and add to our list each day, and gave ourselves space for those busy nights.

Peter on drums

Some days, it was easy for us to see the gifts. Other days, it was hard. When one boy had a tough day at school, and their snarls greeted us at the dinner table, we had to help them dig into their days and find the gifts hidden in them.

One of the beautiful things that began to happen is our conversations around the supper table opened up. We’d hear anecdotes from their days, insights about things they were learning, and every now and then, a boy threw us a bone that offered glimpses into their personal joys and struggles.

Edmund football

Choosing gratitude is a discipline. Some nights, one or more of us didn’t feel like searching for the gifts in our days. Yet, we did it. Almost always, it helped change the mood of the family member who was struggling.

Counting gifts has helped me to look beyond the surface snark that sometimes joins us at the supper table and see the hurting boy behind it. It helped me learn to ask questions and begin to figure out what was really going on.


Family Hike Collage copyI recently asked my family if they saw any benefit to counting gifts. Hubby said it helped him keep a better perspective. One son said it helped him see all he has to be thankful for. The other son said it didn’t help at all.

We are training our boys to look for the gifts God places in their lives. They aren’t going to see all the good that comes from this discipline right now.

Hopefully one day, they will, and it will help them keep an accurate perspective when life’s hard hits.

So . . . to the picture.

2015 Gift List


I posted a picture on Facebook and Instagram that showed our list of gifts from 2015. We wrote most nights, and by December 31, we had logged 1,662 gifts.

Many people commented on the picture, which inspired me to share this little family practice we have. We’ve already begun our 2016 list. Of course, the boys want to have more gifts than we had in 2015. But the main thing I hope to instill in them is a growing sense of gratitude, and the eyes to see the gifts God places in our days.

My three guys beach silhouette

We often find gifts in presence, not presents. They arrive in the form of small glimpses into the world around us, and from the mundane things that happen in a day. If we have the right perspective, we’ll be able to see the many gifts God plants in our days.

That’s my hope for our boys . . . that they can see His love wrapping around them through relationships, His beauty, the big and small things that occur in a day, and on occasion, the big ticket items they think they want.

What about you? How do you practice gratitude in your days? How do you teach your children the idea of gratitude?

Today, I’m linked up with Holly Barrett and Purposeful Faith.

31 thoughts on “Gratitude: Training Our Children to Have Grateful Hearts”

  1. I teach them to wait with a Milk-Bone balanced across their noses.

    Obviously, I don’t have human kids. But I can answer for me, and the answer is that I try not to make a big deal out of gratitude. In my situation, ‘count it all joy’ most emphatically does NOT apply, and woe betide anyone who’d come up to give me that suggestion. Walk a hundred feet or less in my shoes, and the tune will change.

    There is gratitude, though, for the small things that come my way, seemingly against the tide, so to speak. I recognize then, am thankful for them…and then let them go. grace is like a baby bird. Hold it too tight, and it’ll die.

    See it, and let it go.


    1. Andrew, you made me smile. I’m sure your kids love getting their Milk-Bones. 🙂

      I can understand what you’re saying about not making too big of a deal about gratitude. I think there is a balance between making too big a deal and holding onto things and not acknowledging the gifts God places in a day. I’m trying to become more aware of those gifts, just to acknowledge the ways He shows His love. It makes sense to let them go. I, as always, so appreciate your perspective.


      1. Been meaning to get back to both of you on this. You both gave me a gift in what you wrote and helped me understand why I’ve been struggling as a parent lately. Realized that both receiving (His Love) and letting go (my children and my control) are so important in the life God has given us. Thank you both for your encouragement.


  2. Jeanne, this is a lovely post! I just finished reading Kristen Welch’s Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. I think you’d like it! The gratitude list has been central for me in forming my attitudes and holding my heart still before God every day.


    1. Michele, Kristen Welch’s book sounds like one I DO need to read. I’ll be adding it to my list of books to read this year. Thanks for mentioning it.

      I like to write down gifts I’m grateful for in a journal, usually at the beginning of my quiet times. It’s good to reflect back on a day and see where God’s fingerprints revealed themselves. And, I like what you added about stillness. So important.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  3. I love this! I have counted gifts intentionally in the past and have shared them daily on social media. I do not do it like that anymore but still look to what my blessings are each day. We can’t forget that where we are is because of whom God has chosen us to be.

    I love the picture of all the handwritten gifts. That picture says a thousand words!


    1. So true, Mary. We can’t forget that where we are is because of whom God has chosen us to be. Not always an easy place to be, or thing to acknowledge. Especially when God has us in difficult, uncomfortable places. When we can look for His presence in the midst of the hard times, I think it may strengthen us to go through those seasons.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here, friend. 🙂


  4. Beautiful, Jeanne. Truly. And I love your honesty … how one kid didn’t think it helped at all. But … I have a feeling he’ll be the one it helps the most. God just has a neat way of working like that. And you’ll be so glad you did this … I’d say simple task … but it’s not simple. Bless you.


    1. Shelli, that kid would be the strong-willed one, who has a master’s degree in being contrary. 🙂 But, I so appreciate his honesty. And how he (eventually) can see the good in the ways he’s learning discipline. 🙂 I think/hope/pray he will one day see and embrace how God’s already working in his life. 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by!


  5. What a great family practice, wish I would have thought of that when my kids were young. We just don’t practice gratitude enough these days, we are more about, “What’s next.” Great post Jeanne.


    1. Gene, I suspect it’s a part of our culture. Rather than pausing to say, “Thank you,” to God or people, we do as you say, look for what’s next. I pray our kids will one day see the power gratitude has in molding/re-shaping attitudes to life’s circumstances. 🙂


  6. Jeanne! I love this : ) I keep a list too, but never even thought about getting my husband in on it (no kids yet.) What a great idea and a precious way to share in each other’s journeys!


    1. Yes, Bethany. It’s such a great way to share each other’s journeys. I’ve been so surprised at how God opens doors to sharing that probably wouldn’t have opened if we hadn’t stopped to think about our days, and look for the gifts in them. Even the hard gifts. 🙂


  7. So great, Jeanne. We try to instill this same character in our son’s heart. We have so much to be grateful for and there are many blessings to count. Honestly though, I don’t remember counting too many blessings at 13. Perhaps that appreciation becomes more authentic (and less because we tell them too) as we grow and truly see the goodness in our lives in comparison with what others lack. Perhaps it’s a good thing that at their young age, they don’t have to see that fully yet. None the less, parenting is not for the faint of heart and it’s so encouraging to see you raising up two young men with hearts full of gratitude. Blessings to you, friend.


    1. I think you’re right, my friend. Gratitude isn’t an intrinsic thing at 13 (or 11). I’m hoping that our boys will learn to look for those things, though one boy will probably see them more readily than the second, just because of their make ups. 🙂 It’s not always easy to choose gratitude. That’s why we practice. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the idea of a communal gifts list. Sometimes, when I’m in a slump, I find that including others reminds me of so much I am grateful for. PS- Love the header!! 🙂


    1. The drum set is actually at my son’s drum teacher’s studio. 🙂 My guys dreams of having one of those one day. 😉 Teaching gratitude to the younger kiddos is hard, but such a good practice. That “gimme” attitude doesn’t wane as they get older, but at least mine have stopped asking me to buy them things at the store. 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by!


  9. I’ve kept a gratitude list on and off in different ways. I was like your little boy — I wanted 2015 gratitudes for 2015. I quickly fell off that overachieving goal. 🙂
    But your family list. And discussing in the evenings — what a good idea. I think it might be just the thing to help our erratic family devotions become more constant. Thank you. That is a wonderful photo!


    1. I bet we’ve all had times when that overachiever mentality has struck us. I know I have! 🙂 I know how hard it is to get in family devotions. We’re not nearly as diligent with that as we are with our gift list. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by. I always appreciate it when you do!


  10. I need to practice this more deliberately than I do. Loved the honesty here, Jeanne, that one of your boys said it didn’t help at all. That’s boys! I may try this with the granddaughter. I may even help close the gaps of miles between us.


    1. Debby, I need to practice it more than I do too. 🙂 I write in my journal most mornings, and then am convicted a couple hours later when I am complaining in my head about the people who disregard carpool rules. Oy. God’s still got a lot of work to do in me. 🙂 Each title step forward is progress though. Right? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. So, so thankful for the stop by your blog today, Jeanne. We’re struggling with this issue of ungratefulness in our home. So many of your words, the idea, and the photo of the lists – oh the photo! – impacted me. I’ll be sharing this w/hubby in hopes we can prepare a plan. To God be the glory. Appreciate you and these very words.


    1. Kristi, it was so nice to meet you at your blog. I hope God shows you the best way to be intentional about practicing gratitude with your family. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by!


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