Until they were about seven or eight, we had our kids convinced there was no television station except PBS. This neatly solved the problem of commercials and those glassy-eyed gimmie faces that a confront so many parents, especially at this time of year. This solution, however, is short-lived. Not to mention, it doesn’t really address the heart of the issue—how do we raise truly thankful kids in an age of iPads wielding four-year-olds? Gratitude toward God affects so much else of our spiritual and physical lives. And yes, it can be cultivated.
Find God Moments
When our girls were little, we would go on “God walks.” They were regular walks, but we spent them looking for things to praise God for. Thank you God for those colored leaves. Thank you for making dogs to pet. Thank you for hands to hold and puddles to splash in. Teaching kids to seek out God in their surroundings sets them in the habit of recognizing His hand in everything. They get used to not taking Him for granted. They learn to live in Isaiah 55.12—“You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!”
No, we don’t go serve needy people so we can go home and tell our kids how grateful they should be. That is terrible motivation for service and disrespectful to the people we serve. It is inevitable, though, that giving to others makes us more conscious of what we have to be thankful for. Working with other volunteers gives kids a wider window on the world, always a step toward seeing our own world more clearly. Being generous with our hands creates people who are generous with their hearts. Generous hearts are always grateful. We do this together to show that gratitude is a family-wide truth.
Make a Thank You Keepsake
This can be a jar, a scrapbook, a piece of computer art—anything. Have a place where kids (and parents) can write down or draw a picture of things you are grateful for. Make it a habit to write something each day at bedtime or dinnertime. Periodically read them together to remember all the things God has given you.
Choose one person every day (or week) that each family member will thank for something. This can be a note, a text, email, picture, whatever. Any expression of thanks is valid. Talk about the value and joy other people have added to your lives.
Create a Thanksgiving Tradition
We have a Valentine’s Day tablecloth that we bring out every year. On it, the girls and I wrote (in fabric paint) as many Bible verses about love as we could fit. When we use it, we chose some of them to read aloud. Families can do the same thing with a Thanksgiving tablecloth. Write verses about gratitude all over a two-yard piece of muslin. Read them at Thanksgiving every year.
Talk Redemptively about Difficult Circumstances
Things happen for which we are less than thankful. We can help our kids by talking through these things in a redemptive way. Is there something you can thank God for in this? Can good come of it? We need to be careful not to do this in the middle of their pain. It’s insensitive, even cruel, to hear a person’s sadness or fear and try to force gratitude on them. God doesn’t do this—He lets the Psalmists get out their anger and anguish. Afterward, though, talk about what good can come out of the situation. Help them learn the truth of “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5.18).
Be What You Want To See
Parents get kids who look like them—in more ways than one. If you want thankful kids, check yourself. How much do you complain about what you don’t have or what others do have? How often do you mention a lack of money, or time? Are the little habits of your heart and tongue grateful ones or not so much?
We want to be real people—not happy fake Jesus people who always have a smile and a good word that rings false. Yet “real” does not have to mean negative. Practice shushing those comments of discontent before they come out of your mouth. Replace them with words of gratitude. Honest ones. “We can’t afford Disney right now, but I am so glad for your friend and I love her pictures. I’m grateful we can go to the lake this summer and have time away together.” Even if it’s just going to the zoo today instead, practice visible thanks.
It takes work—but thankful kids bring joy to God’s heart, as well as yours.
Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Colossians 2.7 (NLT)
And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Colossians 3.17 (NLT)
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Discuss: Choose some of the examples shared here that you can implement with your family. Do you need to focus more on cultivating thankfulness in your home? Chances are we all do!
Pray: Lord, thank you for all the things you give us. We aren’t always grateful. Help us to set an example for our children so they can go into this world looking to you with a heart of gratitude.