Cultivating Contentment in Your Children


Painting by Barbara Philip

Painting by Barbara Philip

Several months ago I wrote a post about discontentment.  You can read that here.

Since that time, I have been praying and intentionally working on contentment not only in myself, but also instilling contentment in my children’s hearts.

This is such a valuable life lesson, and I pray they can learn to form this habit of contentment at as early of an age as possible.  Not that they will never struggle with it.  I’m sure they will.  However, I pray this will be such a part of their lives, that it will be quickly noticed by them when they need help in this area and that they will know what to do about it.

“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12, 13 NASB)

I realized recently that I have often heard these two verses quoted separately.  However when they are together, the context becomes so much more clear.  What is the secret Paul found to contentment?  Being strengthened by Christ in each circumstance.  He learned to do all things with Christ’s strength and not his own.

This is what I want to teach my children.  But how?

1. Scripture.

The Bible is where I need to head first and always, asking God to guide us through His truth contained within.  Learning, studying, and memorizing verses and passages about gratitude and thankfulness, about relying on the Lord, about His might, power, and sovereignty will help us learn to trust Him more and therefore be content where He has us.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19 NASB)

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.” (Psalm 7:17 NIV)

When I focus on the fact that God always takes care of me, so I have nothing to fear, and that He deserves all of the praise, I am more likely to rest in peaceful contentment.  His truth brings this again to me.  I then have to decide to be content.

2. Don’t Give Them Everything They Want When They Want it

So you are at the store, and your child sees something she wants.  She begins to ask, beg, plead.  Do you get it for her?  Do you do this every time you go anywhere?

My kids often ask for something when we are out shopping, but I rarely let them get anything.  Sometimes they can get something from a dollar section or other times they can use some of their money, but I try to help them realize that we don’t have to buy something every time we go somewhere and see something we want.  There will always be something we want.  There will always be more to buy.  However, if we learn to be self-controlled with this and only make wise choices in our purchases – with an occasional, but still at least somewhat wise splurge or treat – we will find more contentment.

Going to the store will also be much more peaceful.

It’s okay to tell our kids they can’t have something, that we aren’t going to spend extra money, or that they don’t need this or that.

3. Teach Them to Save, Give, and Spend Well

We are going to be starting this in the new year.  They already have piggy banks, but I want to start teaching them to divide their money up into tithe, savings, giving, and spending.  Our goal is to help them learn to divide up their earnings into these categories and find joy and contentment in each action these categories represent.  There are many resources online to help with this, and I haven’t decided which books/resources to use yet as we teach them.

Is there one that you love?  I would love to hear about it.

4. Teach Them to Serve Others

There are many service opportunities in each community, and not all of them are safe or wise for children to be a part of.  However there are many others that are perfectly acceptable for children.  We have brought our children to soup kitchens, for example, to help them serve those who are homeless or without food.  This has led to many conversations about what it means to be in need and puts into perspective how much we have with just having a house, food, and each other.  Of course this is an opportunity to serve together and alongside your children (which will also help keep them safe).

Serving doesn’t only happen in these settings where others are desperate, though.  We can also teach our children to hold doors open for others, be kind and polite, let others go first, and even smile and say hello to people around them.  I recommend not scolding your child when they fail at this, but reminding them that they are learning and helping them see how it’s done by watching you model it for them.  Don’t embarrass them if they aren’t a model citizen.  They are children.  They are learning.

We can also teach them to serve others through prayer.  Prayer journals where we write down prayer requests and record the way the Lord shows us His answers are a tremendous help for all of us to see how God is moving in our lives and the lives of others.  This also helps take the focus off of ourselves, which helps us be reminded of how blessed we are and how content we could be.

5. Get Rid of Stuff

Make a regular habit of going through clothes, toys, shoes, etc and passing them on to others.  Have yard sales to sell some of it, and give some of it away, too.  There are plenty of ways to pass things on and not accumulate more and more and more stuff!  This is especially a great idea after holidays and birthdays when children most likely have received new items.  It’s a great time to help them learn to not hold too tightly to their material possessions.

6. Ditch the “No Fair” Attitude

There will always be others who have something that I don’t.  My kids won’t get what many other kids have.  I need to teach them and model for them that this is okay.  However, to take it a step further I want to teach them and model for them how to rejoice with those who rejoice.  Instead of looking at what someone else has and thinking, “No fair.  I want one of those,” I have to decide to thank God for providing whatever it is for that person.  Do not covet what others have, right?

If my children see me doing this, they are going to pick up on it very quickly.  Their little, immature, probably-more-flesh-than-spirit-driven selves are already most likely in struggle mode over this.

This happens most with food in my household.  Just because someone else is eating something doesn’t mean you have to eat something, too.  This is especially fun when I am pregnant and snack time comes much more often for me than for a normal person.

I purposely try to help my children with this by sometimes helping them not get the same thing as everyone else.  I don’t want to enforce that everything has to be “fair.”  Life is not fair, and I am actually very thankful for that in many circumstances.  I’m not talking about anything outrageous here, but why does it matter if they all have the same color sparkly pen or same new hair clip?

7. Ditch the TV

What?  I’m sure there will be many who will argue this point, and I am not judging anyone who disagrees.  However I do not let my children watch television.  When the Olympics is on or something significant and multi-cultural, or when my husband wants to watch a sports game (which he doesn’t do very often actually), we let them watch sometimes, but during the commercials they do something else, and we mute the TV.  Not only are there so many inappropriate commercials for children, many of them advertising inappropriate shows, but also they are meant to sell things.  An adult can better process these commercials and hopefully make better decisions regarding them, but a child cannot fully understand and process the information and the techniques used to sell these products in the same way an adult can.  Why expose them to it?

It’s not just the commercials, though.  So many shows that are apparently made for children really offer very little help in the contentment department.  I don’t want to put my children in the position where they have to sort through all of that at such young ages.  There really isn’t much benefit.  I do let them watch certain movies, for the record, but I even limit that because I have noticed that it too does not always help in our efforts toward teaching gratitude and contentment.

It’s a Process, Be Patient:

I’m still not surprised when one of my children struggles with being content.  It’s an ongoing lesson for everyone, but these are some ways we have been working through the subject and teaching thankfulness, joy, and contentment in our household.  We pray that our children will continue to learn this, for the Lord’s glory.  It blesses others when we are content, too.

What are some ideas that have worked for your family?

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” (1 Timothy 6:6,7 ESV)

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