Ways Kids Practice Giving Thanks
Q. What are some ways you help your children practice thankfulness?
Dusty Shell: To help our children really understand gratitude, we often try to help them volunteer and help others in need. Seeing for themselves that there are so many others, even children, out in the world who have very hard struggles brings the things we teach them to life in a way nothing else can. Service to others helps them (and us!) remember all of the blessings that we have in our lives. We also make sure to explain to them the thoughtfulness behind the actions of those near and dear to us so that they can begin to understand how those around us are reaching outside of themselves to bring a bit of happiness to others.
Susan Heim: It’s important to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” throughout our children’s lives, not merely through a few good deeds or during the Christmas season. Many of us are blessed with warm homes, plenty of food and clothing, and luxuries like big TVs and annual vacations, but my husband and I teach our children that we shouldn’t take these things for granted. Just because we can afford to do or buy something doesn’t mean we should. When I hear my children complaining about something they can’t do or buy, I ask them to consider all of the things they do have or get to do (I.e., “count their blessings”). When they receive a gift, I have my boys write a sincere thank-you note to the giver. We teach them to say “thank you” to people who provide service. As parents, our greatest wish for our children is that they are happy, but this will never be accomplished by giving them more stuff. Research shows that happiness begins with learning to be thankful. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life,” notes Melody Beattie. By instilling gratitude in our children, we are helping them to be their best selves.
Tiffany Malloy: While making our kids “be thankful!” is certainly impossible (oh how I wish there was a formula!), we do try to create spaces where thankfulness is encouraged.
At dinner each evening, our prayer time is a place where the kids love to express their thankfulness to God. They simply thank God for their food and family (in those exact words—ha!) and then choose one thing about their day, thanking God for that person or word of encouragement or fun thing they got to do. Even if they are super grumpy, something about this sacred habit of thankfulness allows them to dig below the crankiness and find the gem of thanks buried inside their hearts.
Another way we help our kids practice thankfulness is by providing opportunities for our kids to serve others. Each year the kids get to choose to pack a shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse, choose something from the World Vision gift catalog, or bake cookies for a lonely older man down the hall. When their attitudes are set towards generosity, they have an easier time seeing the generosity of God towards them.
Melissa Newell: The practice of thankfulness, honestly, is a way of life for our family. We try hard to not only practice our thankfulness around the holidays, but all year round. We recently hosted our Annual Family Halloween Party a few weeks ago. The party was a huge success, as always, with over 90 of our friends and family in attendance. We always “attach” some sort of charity or giving back to our parties asking our guests to bring a canned good, something for the SPCA or maybe some school supplies for local families. This year, however, we have a close mom friend who is fighting cancer for the 2nd time since last Halloween. We as a family, made the decision to step it up a notch this year and made this party a fundraiser for her. We were able to raise $ 2,600 for her and her family to help offset her huge deductible for her bone marrow transplant. We were thankful that we could help out the family and thank God each day that we have a huge network of friends who also wanted to help out. In addition to prayer, it’s by works that we teach our children how to be thankful.
Julie Kieras: I think raising children who learn to be genuinely grateful is a challenge in our society so full of material goods and immediate gratification. As parents, we started teaching the boys to show appreciation from an early age – before they could speak, we’d say thank you for them when someone gave them a gift or compliment. When they could comprehend sign language, we had them sign “thank you,” and now that they are talkers, they say the words. Of course, they often forget, but we are committed to reinforcing and reminding them of the polite response towards others.
Yet, we are not content with just an external show of thankfulness—we are trying to teach our children to show their gratefulness with actions too: writing thank you cards after birthdays and Christmas; donating toys they don’t use anymore; making cookies to give to neighbors; using some of their piggy bank money to buy treats to put in care packages from time to time. I think real gratefulness is instilled not just by saying the words, but in actively giving back to others. The boys are young yet, but we’re praying these words and actions sink down into their hearts to become permanent markers of their character.
Chere Williams: There are a few things that I hope to instill in my daughter before she spreads her wings one day and leaves my nest. One of them is a spiritual foundation and the other is an attitude of gratitude and appreciation of her blessings. I never wanted to raise a child with a sense of entitlement, so gratitude is practiced all year in our house and not just in the month of November. We switch up how we do this, but previously we had a gratitude calendar that we started on January 1st. Every day we’d write at least one thing we were grateful for and at the end of the year review all of our many blessings. This year we created the sweetest blessings box, that my daughter put some meaningful words on and we both decorated. We’re using the box to store the blessings that we’re writing on a slip of paper, our goal is to write one blessing every day. We also make a practice in our morning prayers to say what we’re thankful for in our lives. When we keep gratitude in our daily thoughts and prayers we’re much more aware of how God is constantly working in our lives!
Kona Brown: Receiving all with thanks is a practice often overlooked as we rush against the restrictions of time! In the microcosm that is the Brown’s household, this is no less true. But thanksgiving is a practice, it is a fitness that grows our faith and so I try to intentionally add it to the rhythm of our day. On the ride home from school, I always ask the boys to first tell me what they were grateful for about their day, before they can tell me about what challenged them. We run on LOTS of impromptu prayers of thanks: when things go right, recognizing that every good thing comes from God, and when things go wrong, affirming that He loves us, He is in control, and He works it all for good. These go out loud, whenever and wherever! Because of where we live I have also tried to ensure that the boys are grateful for the privelages they have, not in comparison to an unnamed mass called “the poor”, but in an awareness of real people, with names and stories, that we see and know and engage with.
Thank you, Mom Mentors! Learn more about them here and connect with their blogs. We would love to hear about your experiences, too! Do you have a question for them? Please post it below. And share your answer with us. See children’s books for growing up in God at grahamblanchard.com.