“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” (Psalm 100:4, NKJV)
The holiday season will soon be upon us, turning children and adults alike into greedy gremlins. We don’t tend to be naturally grateful creatures anyway, and Christmas can have a way of turning up our self-centered nature if we’re not careful. How can you shift your child’s focus from the things they want to things that they are grateful for?
It's not as difficult as it may seem. A recent study at UNC suggests a four part “Notice-Think-Feel-Do” approach to teaching gratitude to children. This helps children understand why they are grateful, instead of just being reminded to say “thank you” every time something nice is done for them.
I have found some fun and simple ways to model gratitude for my kids at home:
1. Limit media exposure. Kid-focused channels are flooded with enticing toy commercials at every break. I notice my kids becoming more discontent when they focus on what they don’t have. And honestly, so do most adults! So I turn off the TV, especially during the Christmas season. They can’t obsess over something they don’t know exists!
2. Read books about gratitude. Our family has used and revisited a great resource provided by Compassion International, a nonprofit focusing on children’s poverty around the world, which includes a free eBook called Goggles of Gratefulness and a five-day family devotional, focused on the why’s and how’s of gratitude.
3. Look for blessings. As you go about your day, find things about your surroundings to help your kids realize blessings we tend to take for granted. For example, “I’m so thankful that we have a safe place to live, a warm comfy bed, food to eat, clean water.” This is a practice your children can easily bring into their adult life!
4. Appreciate other people. Help them shift their focus by pointing out people you appreciate, which will help them realize that life is about more than just things. Recognize a friend that is always there to listen when they need to talk! Or a teacher who spends extra time with them to explain a confusing school subject.
5. Praise good deeds. Praise your children when you catch them doing something good to show that they are blessings, too. I’m sure you notice when your son has cleaned up her toys (because you’re not stepping on his things anymore), or when your daughter made her bed (the tornado has finally ceased). Thank them and tell them why you value the act!
6. Establish a Grateful Chart. Every day, each person in the family can come up with something new to add to the chart. Do this for a month and review how many blessings you’ve spotted! This is a great visual reminder for the whole family and will help your children see there is quite a lot to be thankful for.
Now that your family has made time to become aware of these blessings, it’s time to respond! Doing things for others not only helps the beneficiary, but also gives your family the opportunity to experience the blessing of giving. You and your children can brainstorm ways to give back as a way to thank God for all the blessings He has given you. Some ideas might be:
-- Write ‘thank you’ cards. Have your children hand write ‘thank you’ cards whenever they receive a gift. Encourage them to be specific about the gift and what they like about it. Set aside time to do this immediately after receiving the gift and send them right away.
-- Participate in a local toy drive and let your child help by picking out a gift he or she would like.
-- Make yummy treats. Let your children help bake goodies to take to neighbors. Baking together is a fun family activity…and you might make some new friends!
-- Sponsor a child. Your child will gain a PenPal and help them see what life is like for people around the world. This activity can open up new doors of curiosity about the world and encourage your child to compare and contrast life in their country vs another. Seeing how grateful people are in less developed countries can have a profound effect on a child’s perspective.
If your family is not used to thinking this way, it may take some practice! But do not worry, everyone will catch on quickly. Understanding and naming your blessings is a practice that becomes easier each day and will greatly enrich you and your family’s lives.
Of course, you will probably still hear occasional complaining and whining, but with practice and intentionality, you will soon feel and see a difference in your children’s attitudes. Here’s to a peaceful and grateful season of life!