My seven-year-old loves to read her Illustrated Children’s Bible on her own each morning before breakfast. From the kitchen, I’ll often hear commentary like “oh boy, here they go again.”
She’s discovering that the Israelites weren’t always so grateful. In fact, they were usually downright selfish complainers.
God had just delivered them from slavery in Egypt and was providing for their physical needs in the wilderness, as He led them to the Promised Land. Yet, they still found reasons to moan and groan.
Our kids are prone to the same type of behavior. They have safe, warm homes with rooms full of toys and plenty of food to eat. Video games. Friends. Loving parents.
But somehow they’re not satisfied.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us that it’s actually God’s will for us to be thankful. He knows it is simply the best way to live.
So how do we raise children whose hearts are overflowing with thanksgiving? Here are four ways we can cultivate an attitude of thankfulness in our kids all year round.
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Show gratitude yourself
There’s a saying that goes, “children become what they behold”. If you’re complaining about things, you can’t expect your kids to be very appreciative. Pay attention to how much you complain in front of them: about the weather, about the housework, about something that didn’t go the way you expected, etc.
Then, make a deliberate choice to choose joy. The enemy wants us to agree with him in a spirit of grumbling and dissension. Because he knows it shifts our focus away from God and onto things we have no control over. And it inevitably affects our children’s attitudes negatively.
Being thankful doesn’t come naturally; it’s something we have to fight for. But if we model gratitude, our children will follow suit!
Give them responsibility
Kids who are given routine, age-appropriate chores become adults who appreciate what they have. When you always do their laundry and clean up their messes, it creates a sense of entitlement. Entitled kids aren’t thankful.
By giving your child daily responsibilities at an early age you are preparing them to be a person who doesn’t shrink back from hard work, but rather, accepts it as part of life.
They won’t be as likely to take everything for granted when they know the value of earning something all on their own. And they’ll be more inclined to enjoy what they already possess.
Delay their gratification
We live in a society where whining is rewarded with a glowing screen, or a toy from the checkout aisle. We offer our kids another meal option if they complain about the food we serve. When they wail that we gave them the “wrong” colored cup, we rush to replace it with the red one.
This continual instant gratification over time leads to discontent.
Our kids won’t ever be satisfied with what they have, because they’ll always be looking for more, bigger or better. Knowing how to handle disappointment and boredom is one of the best gifts we can give our children!
Teach them to praise God
A true posture of gratitude comes from acknowledging the Provider. I find I’m much more tempted towards ungratefulness when I haven’t spend time thanking God for the big and small things in my life. Tim Keller says, “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.”
We need to lead our kids to give thanks to the Lord for His blessings. When you’re teaching them how to pray, emphasize the importance of praise at the beginning of each and every prayer. This helps direct their focus towards His provision and goodness, before presenting any requests they may have.
If your child says something like, “It’s cold and yucky out”, you can redirect them towards praise by replying this way: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” You’re turning a negative into a positive and praising God at the same time, which will become a healthy habit for your children as they grow.
You may also want to have them create a visual reminder of those blessings. During November, our kids will write or draw their gratitude for the day on a construction paper leaf and hang it on a line in our homeschool room. Other years, we have made trees of gratitude.
A fantastic Bible study for kids on the topic of thankfulness is A Content Heart by Not Consumed. It takes kids and teens on a journey through Scripture, teaching them how to find contentment with themselves, their circumstances, and their worldly possessions.
The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” By reminding your kids daily of the goodness of God, you will be cultivating an environment of thankfulness in your home.
And fostering an appreciation for all of those things He uses in their lives, whether they seem pleasant at the time.