Today, I have 7 tips for Christian parents to help their kids develop thankfulness in their daily lives.
1. Work: Kids who work learn to be grateful. For one they understand the effort that goes into other people’s work. Waitresses, janitors, police officers, cashiers and parents are easy to disregard if you have no experience with the work it takes to do their job. So give your kids ample opportunities to empathize. Give them daily chores appropriate to their age; let them participate in a family business; let them have a part time job; take them to work with you, or to job-shadow in the community. Don’t let idleness develop into a lack of gratitude for the work done around them.
2. Service: There are a myriad of opportunities (especially for homeschool kids) to reach out and do community service. Summer and the holidays are great times to volunteer. Charity fun runs and youth mission trips are great summer activities. Volunteering to wrap presents for an angel tree or serve a holiday meal to the underprivileged provide a chance for kids to help others. Year round permanent volunteering positions are especially helpful because your children can connect with the people they serve. We sing hymns at our local nursing home. My 9 year old knows the elderly there by name; she prays for them when they are sick and gets and gives enormous amounts of love and attention.
3. Provide perspective (not guilt): Let’s abandon the cliche, “Clean your plate! Don’t you know there are starving children in Africa!” Instead let’s provide kids with perspective. When we lived abroad my (then) tween had lots of opportunities to see the body-wracking results of famine and malnutrition. These weren’t distant people to whom she could potential feel superiority or even pity. These were our dinner guests. My younger daughter doesn’t have this opportunity but our family gives a little money in keeping with our small budget to a school in Africa. It really isn’t a lot but it ensures that a child or two there gets a free education, exposure to the gospel, and a warm meal a day. It doesn’t hurt my 9 year old to see me write that check and talk about that this little bit of money is staving off hunger and malnutrition in a child just like her. Again I am not suggesting you use other people’s misfortune as a club. Just provide your children with perspective about their blessings!
4. Excess: Overheard recently at our local high school:
Teenage Boy: Our maid is so irritating. Every time she comes to clean she puts my deodorant under the sink. Why can’t the stupid (insert entirely unsuitable word) remember to leave it alone?
Second boy: You have a maid?!
As the first young man exemplifies gratitude is a tough lesson even or especially when we have an enormous amount to be thankful for! When we provide excess in our kids lives, it makes them not only less thankful but also less happy. In order to help them be grateful, we may need to back away from some of their blessings. Reducing the number of toys, the number of hours of TV, the number of activities, the number of lavish birthday parties, the number of times you eat out has unexpected benefits. Not only will it be better on your budget, health and the life of your family, but it will also help your child be happier, more thankful and better adjusted. Not sure? Consider the differences in Ebenezer Scrooge and the Cratchit family.
5. Budgeting: I have a wise friend who gave his tweens what felt like to them an excellent budget in their own account. He gave them cards so they could withdraw money. And then when they asked for something extra, he made them spend the money he gave them for that purpose. Suddenly trips to Starbucks took a nose dive. Again my suggestion here isn’t to force kids to worry over whether or not their parents will make the car payment or the power will be cut off. But it is worthwhile for a child to have a set amount of money and budget their wants and needs out of it.
6. Expressing gratitude: One way to cultivate gratitude is to notice then express the good. This starts with pointing out to your child what you have to be grateful for close to home. “Hey, look! Dad came out early and defrosted my windshield! Wasn’t that thoughtful. Let’s text him and say thanks!” Modeling gratitude includes regularly thanking them when they do well! We can incorporate thankfulness into their and our regular prayers. Thank you notes, small homemade gifts, and the simply noticing what others do can be a great encouragement to them. Be creative and encourage them to look for opportunities to be grateful!
7. Develop a theology of gratitude: Consider having your children memorize one of the following scriptures on gratitude: Colossians 3:15-17, 1 Chronicles 16:8-11, or 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Or print out a copy of Ephesians 1 and have them underline each blessings we have in Christ. Sing songs at home that emphasize our thankfulness. Try this simple song if you need a place to start!
May God bless you and your children with His contentment, His joy and every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. May you learn to be thankful in every circumstance and how to give the blessing of thankfulness to the little people God gave to you!