nurturing thankful kids

Every parent has their fears, and here is number one on my list: Overprivileged, entitled, bored sons. I was on the Tunnelbana (our subway) with 15-year-old boys who were bragging about champagne parties and photos of all sorts of strange things that are sent around class, and I sat behind them wondering, How does this happen? Why is this appealing to you? And I see their vacant, hollow eyes. They are bored. They have too much, and they are tired of their empty lives.

Our three-year-old is a great kid, and I am so proud of him, but I already see the seed of entitlement taking root in his little life. The meal table is where I see it the clearest. There are few things that irk me more than my children turning up their noses at food. They eat three meals a day, often a snack as well, meals with protein like eggs and meat, vegetables and carbohydrates, and I try to make food for them that is enjoyable, tasty and easy to eat.

But still we regularly have meal time showdowns over sauce touching food, the quantity of rice that needs to be eaten and why chickpeas need to be finished. I don’t want this one!!!!!!! I don’t like it!!!!!!!!

I deserve something better. I need something more. I demand something else. This is entitlement; there is nothing that screams overprivileged more than seeing my child refuse to eat his meals.

I can’t stand it. Not when today poor nutrition causes the death of 45% of children under the age of five every year. Not when sixty-six million children attend school hungry in the developing world. Not when one out of six children in developing countries is underweight (source).

I have no way to rid this entitlement from our home. Our Big Boy and our Little Bear are human beings with their own will, their own personality and their own desires – they will make their own choices. I cannot control them. But these are their little years, when they are wide open to hear, to receive, when their souls are pliable. I want to make the most of this time, and this is one small, easy way we are trying to keep entitlement at bay.

Our Thankfulness Garden.


In November for the past two years, we’ve had a Thankfulness Tree – a basic tree branch, and we write what we’re thankful for daily on little leaves that we hang on the tree branch. Big Boy loved it last November, but Thanksgiving passed, and we stopped doing it. I wanted to re-instate it, and the Thankfulness Garden was born. I used a container we had that fit my decorating tastes – a rusted, metal tin. We took it down to the beach, and the boys and I filled it with sand. At home, I cut out fruit shapes (or my attempt at fruit shapes) from coloured paper, stuck it on popsicle sticks, and during meal times, we write down what we’re thankful for and stick it in the sand. I usually start our meals with a prayer (start is a lose term here – the boys have usually started eating already by the time I sit down, water glasses are filled and I am ready to eat, but I’m not formal about prayer starting a meal, that it is done is more important to me than when it is done). Sometimes we fill our Thankfulness Garden at the start of the meal, sometimes in the middle, other times at the end, and often we don’t do it. I try to do it once a day. The boys love the activity, it takes some focus off the eating, which for our toddler helps him to eat.

My hope is that it nurtures an attitude of thankfulness in their hearts, but I give you no promises of what this can do. Yes, I see some lovely things coming from Big Boys mouth and heart because of it. Yes, it has amazed me some of the things he has been thankful for. No, it has not eliminated food battles. Yes, we still regularly have noses turned up at food that is given. But their hearts are a work in progress – my heart is a work in progress. This is one small thing we can do every day that will build into the future, and I long for this – for our home to be a place of thankfulness, where whatever our circumstances may be, our eyes might always be open to the hand of God, open to us in all its abundance, keeping the dogs of entitlement and boredom away.

That we may set our hearts on what we have, to set our minds on what is good and pure and beautiful, to rejoice in the glorious ordinary – our food, the sun, each other. That we may in all things, at all times say two small words: Thank you.

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