Helping Our Grandchildren Cultivate a Grateful Heart

“What do you say?”

As grandparents, we may find ourselves often prompting our young grandchildren to say those two little words— “Thank you.” Perhaps you’ve taken them out to lunch and you’ve encouraged them to express appreciation to the server. Maybe you’re keeping them for the afternoon and a younger sibling decides to be generous and share the toys without argument. Whenever someone expresses a kindness, we want to help our grandchildren develop the habit of acknowledging their appreciation.

Let’s be candid. While those two words aren’t hard to pronounce, most people—whether age four or sixty-four—struggle to regularly express gratitude. They just don’t tend to flow naturally from our lips. Why is that? Well, it has something to do with our hearts.

The Mouth/Heart Connection

Did you know that Jesus said that our mouths are connected to our hearts? In Luke 6:45 he teaches, “[O]ut of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” In other words, what does (or doesn’t) come out of us reveals what’s inside of us. That’s the great mouth/heart connection. Humbling to think about, isn’t it?

It’s uncomfortable to think about some of the things that have come out of our mouths in moments of frustration, anger or just plain selfishness. What does that say about what’s going on inside? Ugly and selfish words come from ugly, selfish hearts. And, what’s true for us grandparents is true for our grandchildren, as well. Anyone feel like joining me right now in singing, “Oh, to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be!”?

A Call to Give Thanks

God wants us to be grateful. He tells us to be grateful. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 clearly says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How are we going to obey that directive? How are we going to model a lifestyle of genuine gratitude for our children and grandchildren? Just like us, they need God’s grace to transform their hearts from a bent toward selfishness to a bent toward gratitude. By God grace, their grateful hearts will overflow with grateful words.

How might God use us grandparents to cultivate a heart of gratitude in the lives of our grandchildren in particular? How can we be tools God can use in the process of transforming the hearts and mouths of our precious grandchildren?

Gratitude is Caught

Let’s remember Jesus’s maxim, “[E]veryone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Jesus wasn’t painting a picture of a classroom. He was talking about a trainee being shaped by the life of his or her mentor. For us grandparents, what that means is this: as our grandchildren are around us, over time, we rub off on them. In some measure, our attitudes and our demeanors will be reflected in their attitudes and demeanors.

If we are going to take Jesus’s words seriously, we need to do an attitude check. Here’s the question we grandparents need to ask ourselves: Is my daily life marked by a negative, complaining demeanor, or do my grandkids know me as a joyfully grateful example in their lives?

Do we want our grandchildren to grow into joyful, grateful adults? Then we need to give some serious thought to cultivating gratitude in our own hearts. How does that happen?

  • Remember what we actually deserve. The weeds of selfish entitlement in our hearts must be uprooted by the truths of God’s Word: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . .  and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV).
  • Reflect on God’s extravagant grace to us ill-deserving sinners: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5, ESV). A heart that regularly reflects on God’s grace will be overflowing with gratitude.
  • Recognize daily reminders of God’s grace: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2, ESV). By God’s grace, our grandchildren will see in our lives and hear from our lips hearts of gratitude. May that “gospel sweetness” be attractive to their young hearts as they desire also to live daily life with astonished gratitude.

If we want to help our grandchildren cultivate hearts of gratitude, then we must be intentional in modeling thankfulness in our own lives. Gratitude flourishes most in hearts boggled by God’s amazing grace, his lavish love.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

1 John 3:1 (NIV)

Gratitude is Taught

As the older generation, we have the joyful responsibility to intentionally teach our grandchildren the “why” and “how” of being grateful and the necessity of expressinggratitude out loud. After all, unexpressed gratitude is like a wrapped gift that is never given.

  • When with our grandchildren (whether in person or virtually), let’s be intentional in talking about God’s greatness. “They [the members of the older generation] speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty” (Psalm 145:5, NIV). What attributes of God’s greatness have you seen in your Bible reading? In creation? In God’s daily providences? Well, point those out to your grandchildren!
  • When speaking to our grandchildren, let’s be intentional in talking about God’s grace. “They [the older generation] celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness” (Psalm 145:7 NIV). May the Spirit move us to regularly point out to our grandchildren God’s amazing grace, followed by our expressions of thankfulness.
  • Let’s use holidays as opportunities to teach our grandkids to be grateful. Holidays such as Good Friday, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas provide wonderful opportunities to ask our grandchildren, “How does this holiday move us to give God thanks?”
  • Life’s milestones can provide a natural platform to explore reasons to give God thanks: birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, the end of a school year, New Year’s Day and even the safe arrival home after a journey together. Gratitude should flow from our hearts and mouths.
  • Meal times and bedtimes are regular reminders of God’s kindness in providing food and rest. Let’s not miss the opportunity those provide for us to teach our grandchildren to be grateful and to express gratitude to the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).
  • We grandparents can help our grandchildren in expressing gratitude to their parents.  Why not block out some of the time we have our grandchildren to help them write thank you notes to their mom and dad? What a blessing it is for parents to receive a verbal or written “thank you” from their own children.
  • Even times of loss (of a pet or even of a family member) can be opportunities to teach gratitude to our grandchildren. Instead of focusing only on what we won’t have in the future, guide the grandchildren also to reflect on what they have had over their time with that loved one, expressing gratitude to God for that blessing.
  • And most of all, let us guide our grandchildren to express gratitude for the greatest gift they could ever receive, Jesus. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV).

What a glorious privilege we grandparents have in helping cultivate a heart of gratitude in the lives of our grandchildren. May they join us in saying:

“Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!”

Psalm 95:2 (ESV)

Grandparenting with Grace cover


In this practical and biblical resource for grandparents, Larry McCall helps readers confidently carry out their mission of gospel-focused grandparenting. Grandparenting with Grace explores how to build a legacy of a life worth following and how to faithfully pray for grandchildren.

About the author

Larry McCall

Larry E. McCall has served as a pastor at Christ’s Covenant Church of Winona Lake, Indiana, since 1981. He has written a number of articles for a number of publications and is the author of three books, the latest being Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation. He is a graduate of Grace College, Grace Theological Seminary and has a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Larry has been married to Gladine since 1975. They have three married children and seven grandchildren.

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