If you are around young children for any amount of time, you will know that they are born into the world with an egocentric nature. One of the first words they learn is “mine.” And “mine” is almost always followed by an exclamation mark. Selfishness and ingratitude are just two more things parents are tasked with training out of their children. I don’t know how you feel about this part of your job, but there were times when I found it very daunting. Now that we are approaching the empty nest, I can look back over the years and see some things we did well and some things we could have done better in the quest to teach our children to be thankful. If you are still in the midst of the battle against juvenile self-centeredness and thanklessness, maybe these seven ideas will help you.
- Model Thankfulness—I put this one first because I truly believe it is your most effective tool in cultivating grateful attitudes in your kids. I know you already know this – you can preach all you want, but if you don’t live it out in front of your children, they have every reason to question your authority to require thankfulness of them. Make sure the words that come out of your mouth are thankful words, and make sure that your actions also model thankfulness.
- Give Your Kids Less Stuff—When my older children were little, I worried so much about all the stuff I couldn’t give them. There were many things we could not afford – comforts and luxuries which other families looked on as essentials. Now, I firmly believe that doing without taught all of us to be much more thankful for what we have. The next time you get ready to go birthday or Christmas shopping, take a careful look at your list and consider whether the quantity of gifts you plan to buy are actually healthy for your kids and their thankfulness levels.
- Don’t Do Everything for Your Kids—Wow! By now you’re probably thinking that I just want to strip everything fun from my kids, but give me a chance. If I had never assigned chores to my kids, but had done all the housework myself, do you think my little dears would have come to me with thankful tears in their eyes and gratefulness in their hearts for all that their mother did for them? Oh, please! Of course they wouldn’t. They really wouldn’t even notice what had been done for them. They would expect it to be done. Do you see? Instead, give your children age-appropriate tasks around the house. Expect them to do their own homework and projects with a minimum of help from you. Help them to learn to appreciate all the help they actually get from you and the other adults in their lives.
- Encourage Serving and Giving—The self-centered, ungrateful person is not a serving and giving person. There is something about seeing and meeting the needs of others that positively effects our thankfulness levels. Find ways to involve your whole family in serving others and in giving to meet their needs. Look for opportunities in your local church first, and then look around your community to see what needs to be done and what you can do. And then look beyond your community. There are so many wonderful groups that need you. Here a few suggestions: Pure Charity, Any Soldier, Compassion International, and Operation Gratitude.
- Thankful Lists—As a family and as individuals, learn to keep lists of all the things for which you are thankful. There are so many great ways to do this—a chalkboard in the kitchen, a family thankfulness journal, a thankfulness tree. Just check Pinterest for loads of ideas. Make it your family routine to add to the list—not the kind of routine that becomes a chore, not so often that kids just write down the same thing over and over again, but the kind of routine that creates awareness of things around us for which we should give thanks.
- Thank-You Notes—Speaking of writing it down—how many of us these days write thank-you notes? How many children know how to write a proper thank-you note? If you are unsure yourself, try a website like this. Thank-you notes can be written in response to so many things—not just gifts. They can be written to people who have helped, taught, served, or just been there at the right moment. Try to make writing one thank-you note per week a family habit.
- Search the Scriptures—I saved this one for last just to make sure that it is emphasized in your heart and mind. A thankful attitude is pleasing to God, and ingratitude causes His righteous anger to flare up. When the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness complaining about the provisions of God, they sealed their fate. They would never enter the Promised Land. Only their children would have that privilege. God expects us to be thankful. Thankfulness is mentioned over and over again in the Bible. From time to time, add one of the thankfulness verses to your family time. Memorize them together and encourage each other to be thankful.
We are moving into the time of year when everybody talks about thankfulness, but being thankful is not an attitude reserved for Thanksgiving day. Cultivate it every day in your family, and leave juvenile ingratitude and selfishness in the dirt where they belong.
Barbara Deatherage is the Elementary Ministry Coordinator at Stonebriar Community Church. At nineteen, her life completely changed when she met Jesus Christ and accepted Him as her Savior. Three days later, she met Jim Deatherage who would become her husband. Barbara went from rebellious college girl to pastor’s wife in a very short amount of time. Several moves took them from Pennsylvania to Maryland to Virginia to North Carolina to Kansas and finally to the North Texas area where they live now. Also, along the way, Barbara and Jim became mom and dad to four children: Rachael, Caleb, Melody, and Evan. Their kids are growing up, but that means the blessing of four grandkids. What fun! We are pleased to adapt this blog post from Barbara’s personal blog, Worth Doing Poorly, where God has led her to a season of giving back. Titus 2:3-5 says, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”