End Quarreling with Contentment and Gratefulness
by Joy Marie Dunlap

Quarreling is a common problem in most families today. We find a solution in James 4:14, which teaches us that discontentment is the source of quarrels. This passage seems to suggest that helping our children to feel grateful and content with what they have is the best remedy for children's quarreling.

Gratefulness is, I believe, the key to a happy home. Contentment makes a happy home because it is the opposite of contention. The surest way to raise children who are content is to build a spirit of gratefulness.

Our family is not exempt from quarreling. When it occurs, I try to understand what the source of the problem is. Often it fits the above Scripture passage, and I try to help the child understand how much he has compared to what so many people in the world must be content with. For example, when I was a child I did not have a fraction of the toys or books my children have now, yet I was able to find contentment through drawing and writing indoors, and imaginative play in the backyard.

Some people scoff at the idea of saying, “Back when I was a child we had so much less.” However, it is a very important truth that each generation tends to take for granted things the generation before them only dreamed of having. An understanding of how much worse things could be is an important part of developing gratefulness and contentment with how things are and thus avoiding a quarrelsome attitude. This can be done sensitively in ways that do not just exasperate children.

Acquaint Your Children with Other Living Standards

Gratefulness most often begins with the parents' attitudes. Having seen firsthand the extreme poverty of Third World peoples, I am appalled at the lack of gratefulness I see among children and adults alike in this land of such abundance! I have worked with children in a Third World country who had only rags to wear, ate only one meal a day, and owned no toys at all, yet they were much happier than the children I see every day in our middle-class neighborhood.

The reason, I believe, having questioned and conversed with these children extensively, is that their parents had imparted gratefulness to them because their own living conditions had actually improved over the last decade. For this the parents were very grateful, even though many of what we would consider basic needs were not yet being met (by no fault of the parents). These children picked up on their parent's sense of gratefulness and consequently were content in these substandard living conditions, making the best use of what they had, having the greatest fun just splashing in the lake and playing with things they made from leaves and sticks.

In contrast, many middle-class American children are constantly bombarded with advertisements for all the many things they “don't have yet” and are told repeatedly that this makes their life deficient and impoverished even though compared to the rest of the world they live like kings. This fosters an attitude of ungratefulness and, therefore, discontent.

Home schooling can help the situation, but without great care on our part, home education by itself will not make the problem go away.

To develop gratefulness, children need to see a little more of real life than what they commonly find in advertisements on television and in modern middle-class American suburbs. If they are constantly comparing themselves with the children on the block who have expensive high-tech toys and all the latest trends and fashions, gratefulness will be elusive indeed.

Television commercials are a prime source of discontentment. My suggestion is to get rid of the television, use it only for watching ad-free wholesome videos, or at least restrict TV viewing to only a few hours per week. You might also consider switching the TV off during commercials! Radio is an alternate news source that doesn't show graphic gore and has less compelling advertisements because you can't see them. Newspapers are another good source of news!

Find Good Role Models of Contentment

If, on the other hand, our children grow up reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood, living in a little cabin or sod house or claim shanty with one rag doll and a box of paper dolls Ma made from scratch, bravely carrying on through blizzards, locust plagues, and other setbacks, cheerfully making do in any situation, this can become a source of a more healthy comparison.

Our daughter knows that she has more clothes, a softer bed, more dolls and toys, better heating, and an easier life than Laura did, and because of this, she feels content. She enjoys chores because Laura was always doing chores, and she knows that Laura did many more chores than she does.

My teenage sons have heroes of the faith from Christian biographies for role models, such as Hudson Taylor and John Wesley, with whom to compare their lives. Both men lived with little in order to do the most good they could in the lives of others. They have also read books of Sunday School stories written at the turn of the century when boys their age (early teens) took daily jobs and brought their wages home to Mother so she could pay the bills. They, in comparison, have only household chores to do, for which Mother pays them.

The standards with which children compare themselves have everything to do with whether or not they feel a sense of gratitude and contentment! If they were comparing themselves instead with many modern teens who loaf around all week and still get handsome allowances, they would no longer feel content. Look for a godly source of comparison and introduce that person or persons to your children through books, videos, or a less affluent but godly member of your church or community who is a good role model.

Be a Role Model of Resourcefulness

Contentment also comes from being resourceful with what you have, instead of pining over what you don't have the means to acquire. Over the years I have tried to be a role model of resourcefulness and contentment to our children. When we could not afford new plants for the backyard, we filled empty spaces by learning how to propagate the ones we already had. When we could not afford birthday cards or presents, we made them. When I could not afford dresses for our daughter, I made those as well. When we could not afford to go to some entertainment, we made our own fun, and plenty of it.

We now look back on our financially tight years as being rich with family fun and togetherness, because we learned the value of being content. We filled these times with library books read aloud, giant packing boxes to play in, family walks along the river, backyard fun together as a whole family, parking near the airport to let our little boys watch planes land and take off. Whatever we went through, my husband could always put a cheerful face on it and make us all laugh and enjoy ourselves in spite of hard times.

We taught our children to keep their focus on the beauty all around them: the flowers and wildlife in our backyard, the fact that we have a backyard, the colors of a sunset reflecting in ripples on a pond at a park that is free for anyone to use, the amusing sayings of a younger sibling, the warmth of a hug, the encouragement of song. Because of these experiences, our children are not spoiled or jaded; they are able to create or find enjoyment in any situation.

Teach Children To Make Irritations into Opportunities

In some cases discontentment comes from a source of irritation, and I address that in relation to the irritations in my own life, including my childhood. Recently one of our four boys complained of an irritation caused by a brother who was teasing and putting him down. We addressed the discipline problem, because unkind teasing is against our family rules, but I also put things in perspective for the boy who was being teased.

When I was a child, I endured relentless teasing, and it greatly strengthened my character and endurance. I still do not like to see a child teased, because I know it really hurts, but I want my children to understand at the same time that we can allow God to use the irritations in our lives to rub off our own rough edges and strengthen and hone our characters. We can let God carve our rough rock into faceted diamond by accepting the irritations in life as a part of our character development.

Sometimes quarrels develop from jealousy in areas other than material things. A few years ago, one of our four sons won a blue ribbon at the county fair for his baked goods. The son nearest his age felt jealous to the point of having a hard time shrugging it off. I had a talk with this son, as I have had with the others on different occasions with similar struggles, about the unique person he is with his own very special talents and personality traits which I deeply appreciate.

I used my own gratitude for the five very unique personalities God gave to me in our children to help him accept himself and move on. I believe that God has a unique role for every person, which only that person can fulfill. Each of us is created just right for our unique part in doing God's good will on this earth during our stay here. Knowing this can help a child accept himself as a part of God's plan and motivate him to a life of goodness as well as instilling gratefulness and contentment in his young heart.

Cultivate Appreciation of Each Other

I work at building up the children's appreciation for each other by expressing my gratefulness to each one in front of the others and reminding each one of what their siblings have done for us all. “Isn't this a delicious batch of banana bread Josh made today? Thanks, Josh!" “I sure enjoyed the peas tonight. Thank you for growing them in your garden, Jonathan!" “You sure are enjoying the game that Jennaya made for you, aren't you, Judah? Why don't you thank her again?"

I work at building an attitude of gratefulness by showing my own appreciation as well for things that each of the children does for me or for the family, even if it was an expected chore. There is nothing wrong with showing daily appreciation for a chore done well and without complaint. In fact, I have found that the more the children hear my appreciation for their chores, the less they seem to feel like complaining. When children know their service is appreciated and not just taken for granted, they find joy in serving. We moms ought to know this from our own experience. We all feel more like making the next meal after receiving compliments on the meal we made the night before.

Take the time to mention to your children the things you are grateful for through the course of daily life. We are grateful that we live in a house with a backyard, that we are able to grow vegetables and sing and take walks and create things with paper, cloth, and wood. We are grateful that bombs are not falling on our neighborhood, and our local stores are well stocked with the things we need. We are grateful for clean running water and hot showers.

Not everyone in the world enjoys these things. Pray for the Lord to fill you with a deep sense of joy in what He has given you, and share that joy with your children. Pass it on, so that your children can catch the spirit of gratefulness, end quarrels, and receive the gift of contentment, which is a key to a happy and harmonious family.

Joy Marie Dunlap, California

Copyright 2002 The Teaching Home
You may make one copy of this article for your own use.
Permission is required for all other reprints.

E-mail Reprint Permission Request Form

© 2002, The Teaching Home
Box 20219, Portland OR 97294
About The Teaching Home | Getting Started | Resource Directory
State & National Organizations | Magazine Supplements
Subscriptions & Customer Service | Support Group Services