Teaching Gratitude to Children
by Elaine Helms
It is a joy to see and hear a young child or teen that shows appreciation for a gift received or a kindness shown. The characteristic of being appreciative, however, may not come naturally. So the following ideas for instilling an ‘attitude of gratitude’ are offered to start a conversation. What can we as parents, grandparents or teachers do to help our younger generation be thankful people?
Dr. T.W. Hunt, author of Disciple’s Prayer Life, posed the question, “What if we only received tomorrow what we are thankful for today?” He was brushing his teeth when the thought entered his mind, so he said he quickly thanked God for toothbrushes, toothpaste, and yes for teeth!
It does make one think how very much we as adults take for granted—the daily sunrise, breath to breathe, clean air, warm homes, food to eat, clothes to wear. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Model a Grateful Heart
When thankfulness is imbedded in our hearts, it will naturally spill out of our mouths as we graciously acknowledge others for a kindness shown, a courtesy given, or a gift received. Those children around us will not only notice, they may begin to emulate our actions. Thanking God for the food we are about to eat is a simple way of demonstrating that we know every good gift comes from our Father’s hand.
Verbalizing appreciation, for some of the things we are thankful for, not only gets us in the habit of saying thank you, but our children may pick up on the trend and begin to say, ‘thank you,’ too. How often do we say something out loud like “Thank you, God, for this beautiful day?” or “Wow, Lord, You outdid yourself on the sunset today, it’s gorgeous!” Those kinds of spontaneous outbursts can become so natural that our children join us in our thankful expressions.
Make a List
Engage children or teens in making a list of things each person is thankful for. It can be as simple as time for a decent breakfast before school, or a good hair day! To start, get a clipboard and lead the way with writing down what everyone contributes as things, people, places, events, etc., they are thankful for. Brainstorming means no answers are wrong! Encourage silliness if that erupts, this is meant to be fun. Pictures of what we’re thankful for could be drawn, too.
Periodically gather to compare or compile more items for your family list of gratitude. A journal with a running list could be left open on a side table, so members of the family can add things as they think of them. A side benefit of this intentionality is a higher awareness of the good things, expressions, and actions that we begin to focus on. “Let’s add that to our list!”
Philippians 4:8 NASB instructs us, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Include Thanksgiving in Bedtime Prayer
Just as saying the blessing or thanking God for food before a meal can become a habit, so can bedtime prayer. While this habit is best started early in life, it is never too late to begin to thank God for things, people, and events from the day. One of our daughters was especially adept at thinking of things to be thankful for—to prolong saying goodnight!
Recounting memories from the day helps solidify good memories and happy times, and helps to develop a contented, thankful heart in our children or grandchildren. “What was your favorite thing about today? Did you encourage someone? Or did someone encourage you?”
Photos of extended family that live far away can be used to help keep them close in thought and make us thankful for them. 1 Thessalonians 1:2 says, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.”
Write Thank You Notes
In an age of email and texting, many young children and teens may not know how to write a ‘bread and butter’ note. That expression in my parents’ day simply meant dropping a handwritten note of thanks in the mail—for a meal, a gift, or some other expression of kindness given to us. It can be done as a family event around the table so that ideas for what to say can be shared. Even if handwritten is decided against, the gesture of thanking people verbally or through the internet should be taught and encouraged. We all like to hear appreciation for something we’ve done.
Memorize Scriptures about Thankfulness
God’s Word does not return void, so it is the best tool for teaching children to be grateful. Read and repeat some verses about thanksgiving and thanking God. Writing out and repeating verses can help to make them memorable. The following are a few suggestions to get started.
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name,” Psalm 100:4 NASB
“Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart,” Psalm 111:1 NASB
“Devote yourselves to prayer keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving,” Colossians 4:2 NASB
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting . . . This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it . . . Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” Psalm 118:1,24, 29 NASB
Elaine Helms, church prayer consultant and inspirational speaker, is an award-winning author of multiple books on prayer including Prayer 101: What Every Intercessor Needs to Know. She can be reached at www.ChurchPrayerMinistries.org.
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