Many children in our world today have bad attitudes. These attitudes affect how parents, teachers, and church leaders treat them.

Kids of divorce are no exception. As a result of all they’ve been through, many become  bitter and sad. Those who deal with them interpret their bitterness and sorrow as an attitude problem. If children of divorce don’t learn how to find joy, they run the risk of being labeled uncooperative, bitter, aloof, negative, etc. As a result, they won’t have the same opportunities as those who are more pleasant. These children will also likely have more discipline problems.

What if I told you that even after the initial shock of their parents’ divorce, living in two homes, and taking on the stress of their “new normal” kids can rediscover joy? How is this possible? They take on an attitude of gratitude, and this change in attitude makes them more pliable and easier to get along with.

Big mistake

Often when we’re attempting to teach children to be grateful, we try and make them realize there are other kids worse off than they are. But realizing someone has less than you is not gratitude: that is feeling sorry for someone. It does nothing to make the children feel better about their situation.

Modeling gratitude

One way to help children be more grateful is to model it for them. Here is a list to help you get started.

Single parents

  • Make a habit of thanking God verbally for the small things. “Thank you God for this parking space.”
  • Thank your children when they accomplish a feat. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to “treat” them to something. Get them in the habit of hearing your words.
  • When your children are helpful, exhibit feelings of appreciation with a smile, hug, thumbs up, wink, or nod of the head.
  • When bad things happen, express thanks for the fact that God promises to bring good out of evil, disappointment, and trying circumstances (James 1:2–4).

Church leaders

  • Express your thankfulness for the church in your prayers. When kids hear this often enough, they will begin to feel thankful, too, for the church building and the people in it.
  • Verbally express thankfulness for the people who work with you in ministry. Tell your volunteers “thank you” out loud, and tell them often. Kids will mimic what you model.
  • Tell the kids thank you when you are grateful for something they have done. You may have to train yourself to look around to find those good deeds.
  • Teach children over and over that we can be thankful in the midst of difficulty and tragedy because God always uses bad situations for good (Romans 8:28; James 1:2–4)—even if we never see the extent of how He uses it (think Job).

Encourage children to be grateful

Kids need more than grateful role models. The Bible tells us we are to train children to behave well. This means we need to create opportunities for them to practice being grateful. Here are a few ways to do that:

Single parents

  • At the mealtime, ask your children to share what they are thankful for.
  • Ask your children to share what they did for someone today or how they expressed thanks to someone.
  • At the end of your day lead your children to express their thanks through prayer.

Church leaders

  • Ask the children what they are thankful for and do it often, not just at Thanksgiving. Sometimes children (and single parents) need to be reminded of what they have.
  • Encourage kids to tell their stories at discussion time. Relate their stories of life situations to stories in the Bible. More than once I’ve said to a child, “I’m sorry you are experiencing this, but you know what? Just like Esther in the Bible ‘for such a time as this you have been called into the kingdom.’ God may have something special He wants you to do.”
  • Every Sunday starting this week, have a place where children can write sticky notes of what they are thankful for. Call it the “Gratitude Changes Attitudes” basket or think of some other catchy title.

Grateful children have better attitudes. Teaching children how to be grateful will help them deal with current and future blessings and disappointments. This Thanksgiving season begin emphasizing the importance of being grateful. Please share with us what you’ve done to teach your children how to be more grateful.