Gratitude gets a lot of attention in November and December. Between Thanksgiving which for many is a time of giving thanks and the quickly approaching Christmas which can bring out greed in the sweetest child, many parents struggle how to raise children who are truly grateful all year.
From “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” (Psalm 118:24 NIV) to “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV), God makes it very clear he expects our gratitude.
There are probably many things you can do as you raise your children to help mold their hearts to be grateful. These are a few of my favorite:
- Teach your children every good thing comes from God. In our push to get our kids writing thank you notes or saying “thank you” consistently, we may forget to remind our kids absolutely every good thing is from God. Acknowledging the Giver is a huge part of becoming grateful.
- Have your children thank God every time they pray. Encourage them to be specific and not be in the habit of saying the exact same words every time they pray. Those prayers can quickly become rote and meaningless. Establish a habit of thanking God for one specific thing that happened or that you appreciated since the last time your children prayed.
- Do not let your kids hang out in toy stores or other places that help them only think about what they want and do not own. When our daughter was little, about the only time she saw a toy aisle was when she was buying a birthday present for a friend. We also didn’t spend hours pouring over toy catalogues and our television viewing was minimal and as ad free as possible. We found that if she didn’t particularly know a toy existed she wasn’t having a fit to own it. It also helped her avoid the idea of spending lots of time looking for things you don’t own, but would really love it if you could.
- Teach your children not everyone has as many blessings as your family. No matter where your financial circumstances are in comparison to where you think they should be, in almost every case there is someone and often millions of someones all over the world who have less blessings than your family. The very fact you have access to clean drinking water is a blessing millions around would count as one of the most important in the world. It is too easy for our kids to compare their blessings to those richer than your family and feel like God has somehow let them down. They need regular reminders how many blessings God has really given them.
- Help your children notice things for which they should be grateful. Seeing the sun for the first time after a week of rain? Coming home to a warm house on a cold day? Having a great family dinner? Sometimes our kids can take things for granted. Point out when you are thankful for something – especially if you are seeing God working in your lives.
- Have your children thank teachers at the end of every class. My daughter participated in an activity where this was the expectation. At the end of every class, the teacher thanked the students and the students thanked the teacher. I noticed when they attended national events, they were about the only ones who consistently thanked the instructors. Help your kids notice other people who serve them and teach them to say thank you.
- Serve others with your children. The toy of the year may not seem quite as important after your children have spent the day serving children who are living in shelters or outside in the cold.
- Encourage your children to think more about giving and serving than getting and being served. Pay attention to the conversations of your children. Are you hearing more about what they want and how they expect others to do things for them than you do about what they want to do to help others or give to them? Selfish speech can reveal the beginning of a heart that is ungrateful and selfish.
- At the end of every day, have your children list at least three things that happened that day for which they are grateful to God. We have some friends who are currently enduring a situation no parent ever wants to experience. Yet, they look for what they call “manna” from God every day. Those little things that show them God is there. Their road will most likely be very long and very difficult, but they have learned to grateful for the blessings God gives them every day. If your children can easily list those three things for which they are grateful after a tough day, they may be well on their way to having that grateful heart.