Developing a Moral Compass for Your Kids


Greg Smalley offers tips on how to foster an attitude of gratitude in your child's heart.

Dear Greg,

I’m concerned about my child’s selfish attitude.  She recently had a birthday, and as soon as she was finished unwrapping her gifts she started looking around for more!  How do I discourage this kind of behavior and help her develop a grateful heart?   


While the behavior you observed in your daughter is not uncommon, I certainly understand your desire to foster an attitude of thankfulness.  I think all of us as parents want to see our children develop a sense of gratitude in their lives.  Your question is timely for a couple of reasons.  In the first place, as you’ve pointed out, we’re entering that season of the year in which we traditionally take time to give thanks.  Secondly, here at Focus on the Family, our emphasis this month is “Developing a Moral Compass for Your Kids,” and I firmly believe that a grateful heart is a key quality of someone with moral character.        

In the years ahead, your child will need to make a crucial transition.  She’ll have to shift from “being good” because you told her so to making decisions on her own about whether to do the right thing.  Encouraging and facilitating this process is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting.

When it comes to the situation at hand, the way you approach it will depend on your daughter’s age.  Smaller kids may be a bit too young to grasp ideas like unselfishness and gratitude.  They’re still in the process of rounding out their self-concept and grasping what it means to be an individual person.  If your child is only five or six years old, there’s probably no reason to be overly concerned about her behavior.

It’s a different matter where older children are concerned.  We live in a materialistic, consumer-driven culture.  Advertisers and toy manufacturers aren’t in the business of helping moms and dads teach concepts like contentment and thankfulness.  Children growing up in our society are conditioned to believe that they’re entitled to have everything they want – right now!

You can counter this mentality by modeling a grateful and selfless attitude yourself.  As you go through your daily routine, remember to verbally express your gratitude on a regular basis – even for simple things like a roof over your head and food on the table.  Model thankfulness in your relationships with others, too.  Let people know how much you appreciate them just for who they are.  And, express that same kind of unconditional gratitude to your daughter as well.

Another way to help your child develop a grateful heart is by serving others.  If she’s quite young, you can make this a team effort and volunteer with her.  She’ll likely think that’s fun and will enjoy working with you to help at her school, church, or an organization close by that offers tangible assistance to others.  You might also consider signing up to sponsor a child in a third-world country and talking with your child about how your family can provide the youngster with some of his basic needs.  This is a wonderful way for everyone in the family to be reminded of and give thanks for the many blessings they’ve been given, as well as experience the joy of reaching out to others less fortunate.       



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