I Think I’m Raising Ungrateful Kids


What is it about this time of year that can bring out the worst in kids. Oh right—it’s the sugar. Last night we walked into Tropical Smoothie Café to get a treat for the whole family. The kids know the drill. There are four of them, and the smoothies are huge, so they pick two flavors and we split them in half. Twelve ounces for each kid. That’s fun and special, right? And they should be grateful. Instead, we had one begging for a smoothie of her own, another wailing in defeat at her sister’s flavor suggestion, and everybody talking at once. Fiasco.

Today as we were leaving the eye doctor’s office, I told the kids they could pick out a piece of candy from the bucket on the counter. Again, something they should be grateful for. Instead, one starts crying when she can’t find the thing she’s hoping for. Seriously? It’s free candy! A gift! And we have buckets-full more at home!

I Think I'm Raising Ungrateful Kids

When did this happen? I thought we were teaching our kids to be thankful. That’s been our intention, at least. So when did this mentality of entitlement make its way in?

I’m grieved over this—really. As parents, we all want to give our kids the best we can. We want to do special things with them and even splurge on something unnecessary once in a while just to give them joy. Like going out for smoothies because it’s fun.

We probably all say this in some regard, but seriously… when I was a kid, I wouldn’t dare have cried about a free gift or begged and whined for more or better than what I was being offered. My dad coming home from work and saying, “Hey, let’s go out for ice cream,” is one of my fondest memories of childhood. I can’t even imagine complaining that he took us to Dairy Queen instead of Goodrich or some such thing.

Of course I’m not perfect, and I certainly wasn’t back then, but I think I knew something about tact and gratitude. Maybe we didn’t have as much so the “special” was more special. Or maybe my mom just did a better job at raising grateful kids than I seem to be doing.

I know, I know—“I’m a good mom.”

I’m just being honest here. I do think I’m a pretty good parent, and I think I have pretty great kids. But my family is definitely not exempt from having those little red flags pop up and say, Hey, you might wanna deal with this THING that’s creeping in.

So how do you deal with ungrateful attitudes when you live in an affluent, and often instantly-gratified, society? Have I given my kids too much? (Well… yes, probably… and the fact that Christmas is coming—and with it more stuff—is totally stressing me out.) Have I kept their lives so neat and clean that they don’t understand there is want in the world? I mean, I tell them there are kids who go to bed hungry at night and families who don’t have a warm, cozy house. But do they really understand that when they haven’t seen it for themselves?

I’m thankful that my kids aren’t acquainted with grief. I’m thankful that we have been able to provide them with a comfortable life and fun toys and even some sugary treats now and then. I don’t want them to not have it so good. I just want them to realize that they do. And that some don’t. And that no one is entitled to.

Maybe it’s cliché to focus on thankfulness this time of year, but I’ll tell you what—it’s a good thing to focus on. Especially when your kids are displaying ungrateful behaviors.

It’s so easy for even we adults to take our blessings for granted—to let proud expectation smother humble gratitude. I don’t want that for myself, and I don’t want that for my kids. I want us to be thankful for the big and for the little, for the unique and for the usual, for the new and for the old.

I Think I'm Raising Ungrateful Kids

Do you sense the attitude of ungratefulness in your kids when they whine and complain? What are some ways you will spur them on toward thankfulness? Try making a list of 30 things you can help them be grateful for. It’s harder than you think!


  1. Oh my goodness, it’s as if you put my constant worry in words! This is such a concern in our household and I’m always dumbfounded when my kids behave this way. We are very “strict” by today’s standards.
    I would like to get them involved in volunteering and giving. I do struggle that they don’t get to often SEE others struggles first hand. I think it would be much more impact full.

    • Brandi, I totally know what you mean. Now you’ve got me thinking about how I can get my family involved with giving and serving in a more hands-on way–how we can actively love others as much as we love ourselves….

      Thanks so much for commenting, Brandi!

  2. Hi Angela, This is such a common dilemma in our affluent world. So much so, there is even a book out by Susie Larson called, “Growing Grateful Kids.” I haven’t read it yet but it may hold words of wisdom for today’s young parents. I remember going through this dilemma with my kids and encouraging them during the holidays to “adopt” a child or family to provide a gift they might not otherwise have. Toys for Tots springs to mind but there are other organizations that help out as well. “Angel Tree” provides gifts to children whose parents are in jail. Pray for wisdom to guide you. Being a parent is life’s greatest gift—and greatest challenge! 🙂

  3. Good column Angela and you are right to be concerned, but remember that this is the fall of man and original sin for all to see. Therefore it can serve as a teachable moment, to re-inforce the idea that your children, like all of us, are sinners in need of redemption. Remember that the ultimate goal isn’t external conformity (i.e.”Good kids”) but that they see their need for the cross and accept Jesus Christ- Keep up the good work

  4. This is why volunteering at a young age (and forever really) is so important. No kid gets the comments about how some kids go to bed hungry, some kids don’t have toys, some kids don’t have a bed, etc., etc. They only understand through seeing it. Perhaps your family could sponsor a family at Christmas with half of your gift budget going to your family and half to the sponsor. My family did that when I was young, and I loved picking out the gifts for the sponsor kids even when I knew it meant I wouldn’t get that toy. Getting less when it meant someone else had a Christmas too was so much more special than getting it all myself.

  5. This morning my 9yr old was insistent that we need a new van with wifi, sheesh! I pointed to the roof and her belly, as I often do, as a reminder.

    • That’s funny, because my 8-year-old son mentioned something about a van with Wi-Fi just the other day. I didn’t even know that option exists! These are crazy times we’re living in. I wonder what this issue looked like in times past….

      Thanks for joining the discussion!

      • This starts to fall under the category of the more you get the more you want. I wonder if it’s human nature or just a reflection of our current society. It worries me too, because if they don’t learn and understand it now we will just grow another generation of “entitled” people, and really how many can the world support?

        I remember doing missions as a teenager with a local church. For two summers I travelled and hosted Vacation Bible Schools in underserved areas with a group of teens from the church. What an eye opener that was for me. Though I didn’t grow up with what my children are able to have, I was probably ungrateful myself in some ways, so maybe that is a part of growing up too and it’s our job to help our children see and experience different aspects of the world, even as we do our best to protect them.

        One of the things that I try to do is get my boys out into nature and away from “modern” as much as possible. They are young (5 and 7), but it’s amazing after the first day (and the first “I want (insert electronic device)”) how they just fall into what’s around them.

        • Chris,

          I think it’s both–human nature and a reflection of our society. Really, selfishness is at the root of this issue, and that’s certainly not new to our generation. But it does seem like, with access to nearly everything right at our fingertips, our ability to be “instantly gratified” has made selfishness even more evident in our day. May the Lord help us to raise our kids to love Him and others in spite of our cultural struggles!

          Thanks so much for the heartfelt response. I’m very encouraged by all the discussion!

          Blessings to you,

  6. Awesome post. No answers but thank you for sharing. Today at the zoo my almost 4 year old demanded m&m’s, then received a huge cookie from one of my friends. As we were leaving he whined about getting the m&m’s back, then moved on to his lunch spot of choice, then complained we were getting one fast food over another. “I don’t WANT X, I want Y.” I hear my mom in me when I explain “there are kids who don’t eat all day!” But he doesn’t GET it. It’s hard.

  7. I think many of us have been there with our kids Angela. As you said, helping others by giving teaches kids to care but I also feel empathy can be learned too, with experiences. I started a service club at my kids’ school so they could volunteer at schools in underprivileged neighborhoods. We did other things like make blankets and king cakes for the wounded warriors too. I just think it’s important for them to see and do. Perhaps a family trip to a homeless shelter during Thanksgiving just before Christmas may help. And for every toy they got for Christmas, I asked them to donate an older toy to charity. And sometimes that was not easy. But kids are resilient, they got over it and learned it was expected. Good luck! You are certainly not alone.

  8. I had this exact problem 4 years ago. It suddenly went from appreciation to expectation and my girls would voice their disappointment if a present wasn’t the right color, size, etc. Well just like all opposites, you don’t truly know one until you know the other right? Children constantly experience receiving, but not giving. So I had them gather items from their room, around the house, essential items, none perishable food, and other household items to distribute in some baskets. They wrapped the baskets themselves with plastic wrap. Sat down with lots of craft supplies and made anonymous heartfelt cards to put on each of the gifts. On Christmas Eve we went around town to random houses and did a “knock and run” approach to drop off each gift. The girls LOVED it and it really made an impression on them. They had a bigger smile doing that than they did opening gifts! We haven’t stopped since then and I have 2 of the most giving and appreciative girls you could ask for. In fact this year we are getting the WHOLE community involved. It’s turned into a community wide secret Santa from just a simple idea 4 years ago and going bigger and giving more was a family made decision, not just one person which was awesome. So maybe we just need to give kids an opportunity to find out what giving is like to decide which one he or she likes best, or maybe I just got lucky. I think the key is waiting till that “unappreciative” monster shows up and then opening their eyes to what giving is all about and why we parents love to do it so much!! The gratitude should follow.

    • Everything about your reply almost brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for being right there with me–and for sharing how you’ve begun to move beyond that place. I love the heart behind your “giving project.” It’s such a beautiful thing to see families working together to minister to others with a sacrificial love. My heart feels full as I consider the possibilities…. Thank you for joining the discussion!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here