(2nd blogpost in a series on building godly character in our kids)
I’m always impressed when I see a child who shows gratefulness for something someone does for them. To me, gratefulness is a character quality that reflects a happy and respectful person; someone who thinks of others and isn’t just focused on themselves. I like this quote by Brother David Steindl-Rast that I read recently: “In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” I agree, I think that having a grateful heart will bring us more happiness!
Unfortunately, it’s easy for children to develop an attitude of “entitlement” rather than a grateful spirit. A child’s sinful nature causes them to focus on themselves and their needs, and they can quickly become selfish and demanding (this applies to adults too!). So we have to be intentional about teaching our kids to be grateful.
Gratefulness is defined as being appreciative of benefits received, and being thankful. I think there are really two facets to gratefulness: being thankful to others and being thankful to God. How can we help our children grow in being thankful to others and to God?
Being thankful to others:
It’s obvious that we should encourage our children to say “thank you” when someone does something for them or when they receive something. I often see parents prompting their children to say “thank you” and that’s a great way to help them learn gratefulness. But we can also be more proactive rather than reactive about teaching gratefulness.
Going into a situation where we know our children will have opportunities to show gratefulness, we can prepare them and talk with them beforehand about how to show appreciation for whatever is coming up. For example, you might be having a birthday party for your child. You can talk with them about what to say as they greet people when they arrive (“thank you for coming, I’m glad you’re here!”); about what to say when they receive a gift, and about what to say when people leave. Also, talk about what they should do if they receive something that they don’t really need or want. How should they respond? Remind them that the person giving the gift is excited for them to receive it and has possibly given a lot of time and money to get the gift they’re giving to them. What are some kind ways to respond that still show appreciation for the time and money given? Children need to be taught how to be grateful in all circumstances and for all things given to them. Learning to be thankful to others is a great training ground for being thankful to God too!
Being thankful to God:
- The best way to teach our children to be thankful to God is to model it ourselves. We have to face this truth! Our children will be more likely to do what we “do” than what we “say they should do”, especially if they see us behaving differently than we’re saying they should!
If we’re grumbling and complaining because of some circumstance we find ourselves in, they will mimic that behavior when they are disappointed in their circumstances. But if we show a thankful spirit in ALL circumstances, that will be great example to them. There is always something to be thankful for even in the worst of circumstances. When I was terribly sick and couldn’t do much of anything but lay around for about nine months, I realized that God was using that time to help me grow to trust Him more, and he also helped our children to be more responsible through that time as well. I have thanked Him for that difficult time many times over (I’m not saying I came by that attitude easily or naturally, but God is gracious and understanding and helped me see the blessings in a difficult time).
- I think the key is to talk with our children often about being thankful to God. As we go through our day, we can point out things God is doing and even stop and say a prayer of thanks to God with our children when it’s appropriate to do so.
- You can also memorize scripture together related to thankfulness; here are some options:
- I Thessalonians 5:18: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
- Psalm 86:12 : “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”
- Psalm 100:4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”
- Psalm 118:29: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
- Pray for your children to develop a thankful heart…it’s really God who does the work in their hearts to bring about the grateful child we want to see.
Here are some fun activities you can do to teach thankfulness as well:
- Have each of your children keep a list of what they’re thankful for over 30 days using this 30 Days of Gratitude Printable from Meagan Sheakowski on her website: coffeecupsandcrayons.com
- Or have your child make a gratitude journal that they can write in each day expressing what they’re thankful for.
- Schedule a time for giving thanks each day – maybe at dinner, or at bedtime. Ask your kids to tell you at least one thing they are thankful for in their day and then pray and thank God for whatever it was.
- Have family devotions focused on thankfulness. Here’s a link to a great 30 day devotional (it was made to do in the month of November, but can be used anytime)
- Play this fun thankfulness game
- Using a concordance, look up the words “thanks” and “thankfulness” and see what you can learn together as a family about things to be thankful to God for.
- Make thankfulness rocks: have your kids collect a few rocks and then write with a permanent marker what they are thankful for on each rock and then decorate the rock with other colored permanent markers or paint.
- Make a backyard time capsule about what you’re thankful for as a family.
- Read some great children’s books on thankfulness. Here are some suggestions (with affiliate links):
I want to challenge you to focus on teaching your children about being thankful over the next few weeks and I pray you’ll see some exciting changes in your family as you all focus on being more thankful! Blessings to you!