4 practical ways to raise thankful kids

November 19, 2018

Parenting is hard work. And sometimes the hardest part is maintaining a clear focus on the goal. As a follower of Jesus, my primary goal is to lead my kids to be followers of Jesus. I want them to see him and respond to him with grateful hearts. And so, our attempts to raise thankful kids is rooted in our desire to lead them to respond to the gospel.

Growing in gratitude as a family is more about heart cultivation than behavior modification. We think about it, pray about it, and are trying to be intentional with our boys. But the jury is still out on whether we will have any measure of success in helping our sons develop thankful hearts. While we don’t have what I’d call a comprehensive plan, there are some foundational convictions that guide our efforts.  

Here are four practical steps we take as we pursue the development of our kids in the area of thankfulness:

1. Ask God to give you a tender, thankful heart.

Pride, entitlement, bitterness, and discontent quickly choke out humility and gratitude. I must ask God to “create in me a clean heart.” Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” When we truly believe that everything we have and experience is an unearned favor from God, then the overflow (what comes out of our mouths) will be genuine gratitude. And the more I express thanks to God, the more that will produce gratitude toward others. Remember Paul told the Corinthian church, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). The scariest thing about parenting is that our kids often follow our lead. They imitate us. That’s why gratitude has to begin with us.

The root of our discipleship efforts with our kids is directly tied to our own pursuit of discipleship. We won’t be able to lead our kids to anything if we’re not actively pursuing and practicing it ourselves. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not an effective discipleship strategy, unless hypocrisy is what you are going for. The honest truth is that we will never consistently advocate for something in others that we don’t first value for ourselves. Learning to recognize and respond to acts of kindness, small and great, is key to cultivating and maintaining a humble heart.    

We won’t be able to lead our kids to anything if we’re not actively pursuing and practicing it ourselves.

2. Make thanksgiving a primary part of your family prayer times.

One of the major things we ask our kids to do when they pray is express thanks to God. Often, we lead them by asking simple questions: What did you enjoy today? What was the best part of your day? This is a critical part of our family prayer times every night. We also use mealtime prayers to genuinely call out the goodness of God. It’s important to acknowledge that what is on the table is God’s doing, his provision. Whether they understand it or not, they need to hear that we are sustained and kept by the goodness of Jesus. During these family prayer times, we repeatedly express gratitude for the gospel. Neither of my sons have surrendered themselves to Jesus, but they regularly articulate thanks for the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus. And I’m hopeful that one day those expressions of gratitude will lead to conviction and repentance.

3. Say “thank you” a LOT as a family!

It’s easy to take things for granted, to assume blessings and kindness. But when we talk about the many good things we experience and express gratitude, we help each other notice generosity. But don’t just focus on current experiences. Recall past grace. Help your kids remember the trail of goodness behind them. The blessings of the past are still worthy of thanksgiving. As parents, we need to say “thank you” to our kids. They need to hear that we appreciate and value their expressions of kindness and care for us and each other. My mother was a huge proponent of writing thank you notes, and we’ve tried to continue that with our boys. Formulating ways to articulate your gratitude in writing drives it further down in your heart. I told my oldest just the other week, “You become what you do.” The more you speak words of thanks, the better chance you have of becoming genuinely thankful.

Requiring our kids to say “thank you” won’t guarantee a grateful heart, but not saying it will surely lead them to thanklessness. Repeating it is a steady reminder that I didn’t do this myself, someone did it for me. I didn’t deserve it or earn it. Saying “thank you” is an acknowledgement of God’s grace, not our goodness.

4. Give them chores and opportunities to serve.

Nothing breeds entitlement quite like having everything handed to you without any effort or responsibility. Our boys can easily think it’s nothing to keep the house clean, the jungle of our yard tamed, and a steady supply of clean clothes in their closet. Giving them responsibility in our home can cultivate a new appreciation that leads to thankfulness. Help your kids find ways to serve each other, and capture opportunities to serve as a family. When you give yourself away for the sake of others, you are reminded of the One who gave himself away for you. And that should cause your heart to erupt with thanks.

God-honoring gratitude is more of a gospel response than a social grace. In every part of our parenting we should be laying a framework for how our kids should respond to God. But if we aren’t careful we can focus on what is socially acceptable and miss the heart of growing in gratitude. We want to lead our kids to recognize the overwhelming goodness of God demonstrated in the gospel and in every good gift we receive. And we want them to respond to others from the overflow of understanding how God has treated us Christ Jesus.     

In a culture that’s consumed with outward appearances and social media profiles, we can easily get caught up in making sure our kids act right. When they excel in the social graces it may make us look good, but I am reminded that while we are impressed with outward appearances, God is searching hearts. He’s looking for humble hearts, grateful hearts.    

Chris Gaynor

Chris Gaynor is a graduate of Wake Forest University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he serves as pastor of Prayer and Worship at the Summit Church in North Carolina. Chris and his wife, Michelle, have two sons, Hudson and Haddon. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24