It was a typical Sunday morning and I was picking my son up from Sunday school. He walked past his teacher and out into the hall clutching his coloring pages, Bible, and a small piece of candy. I asked him, “Did you say ‘thank you’ to your teacher?” He glanced back over his shoulder and mumbled, “Thanks”, under his breath, apparently to the Sunday School room in general.
That muttered “thanks” is not going to cut it. Obviously, I need to be focusing, once again, on teaching my children to be grateful.
Ingratitude, one of the ugliest of human traits, comes perfectly naturally to us and to our children. In contrast, being thankful is an attitude that must be carefully cultivated.
As Christian parents, we have a responsibility to cultivate gratitude in the hearts of our children by teaching them how to express gratitude through their words and actions.
1. Teach them to say thank you.
So many kids (and adults!) don’t even know how to say thank you. Here are some basic things to teach your children about saying ‘thank you’:
A. Stop and look the other person in the eye.
B. Tell the person what you are thankful for.
C. Finish with the person’s name. “Thank you for teaching me Sunday School, Mrs. Smith.”
Telling people ‘thank you’ is just basic good manners. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally. Your children won’t know how to say ‘thank you’ unless you intentionally and persistently teach them.
2. Teach them to write thank you notes.
If someone took the time and effort to give your child a gift, then your child owes that person a thank you note (even if your child wasn’t ecstatic about the gift.) So, buy some pretty or fun thank you cards and teach your child how to use them.
All thank you notes should include what you are thankful for, at least one reason why you are thankful for the gift, and the closing.
If your child is in preschool, have your child dictate a note of thanks while you write it down for them. If your child is in early elementary school, you might write out their words of thankfulness on a scrap paper and have them copy it onto the card.
3. Teach them to include thanksgiving in their prayers.
To teach your children to thank God, you must first teach them why God deserves their thanks. Teach them about God’s good gifts to them. Remind them over and over again that God loves them and that He sent Jesus to die in their place for their sins so that they might have eternal life in heaven if they believe in Him.
Bring thanksgiving into everyday life. For example, you might say, “I’m sorry that it is raining right now and that you can’t go outside to play. But, did you know that rain is a gift from God and allows the trees, flowers, grass, and plants to grow? We can thank God for the good gift of rain that He is sending to us.”
4. Teach them to have a bigger perspective.
Just like us, our kids are prone to comparing themselves with other kids who “have more”. When they are comparing themselves to others, it is easy to feel dissatisfied and ungrateful for what they have.
Encourage your kids to compare themselves with other kids who have so much less. Some ideas might include:
- Supporting a child through Compassion International,
- Choosing a gift from Compassion International Catalog that you could save for as a family
- Visiting an elderly neighbor
- Making a meal for a family in need
- Visiting a nursing home to encourage the residents
- Taking a gift basket to a sick child in the hospital.
Teach your kids to have servants’ hearts and to see other people’s needs. An attitude of gratitude will naturally flourish in the heart of someone who is others-focused.
5. Teach them to give.
Somehow the act of giving opens our hearts to thankfulness.
Teach your kids to give generously – of their time and of their money. Teach them to habitually set aside a percentage of their own spending money to give away. Encourage them to help choose presents for their siblings, friends, or grandparents.
Teach your kids to look outside of themselves and to consider the wants and needs of others.
6. Teach them to be thankful through your example.
Are you a grateful person? Is your life characterized by giving thanks in all circumstances? Do your kids hear you giving thanks more often than you complain?
Teach your kids how to be thankful through your example. Work on memorizing Bible verses about thankfulness as a family. Your kids can help you grow in this area even as you help them grow. Deputize them as mini “complain police”. If they hear you complaining or if you hear them complaining, encourage each other to stop complaining and to look for something to be grateful for in the situation.
7. Pray that God would change your children’s naturally ungrateful hearts to hearts filled with thanksgiving.
Ultimately, while we have a responsibility to be teaching our children how to be grateful, only God can change their hearts to help them truly experience thankfulness. We must be in prayer that God would change our children’s hearts to be thankful to Him.
As I look over this list, I know that my family has fallen short on numbers 1, 6, and 7. I will be working on these areas as I teach my children gratitude.
How about you? Are there any areas where your family is slipping in the gratitude department? How will you practically work on cultivating gratitude in your home this week? Please scroll down to comment.