By: Kim Morefield
It’s just about that time of year! The holidays are SO much fun! Tasty delights, fun family times, celebrating the meaning of the season, and of course MORE food. The holidays are always such a blessed time, but I wonder if any other mommas feel the anxiety I feel when my precious bundles of joy eat the special dishes my beloved relatives spend hours preparing, or receive the gifts friends & family members painstakingly sought out special for them, or enjoy the precious time people set aside to cherish just them? As a mom I often ponder, how can I MAKE my children be thankful?!
We make them mind. We make them do their chores. We make them SAY thank you, but how can we make them BE thankful? Especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner and Christmas fast approaching on its heels, this is a constant echo in my mind. Sometimes I even wonder if I am teaching this trait at all. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have tried our best, with much sweat, tears, and quite possibly even a little blood! We have had the “Ward & June Cleaver” talks with them about being thankful. We have memorized Bible verses on thankfulness. We even sing a precious Patch the Pirate song about always being thankful and saying our “please” and “thank you.” But as a parent, I cannot help but desire so much more than just a sing-songy “Thaaaank You” or half-hearted gratefulness from our children. It is our desire, as I am sure that of many other parents, for our children to pay more than mere lip service to being thankful. How can we TRULY develop an ATTITUDE of thankfulness in our children, one that resonates in their entire being?
I wish we had a quick and easy three step plan that was a guaranteed success. Unfortunately, we are learning as we go as well! Not only are we learning how to teach our children, but I often find that I, myself, am also trying to learn what I am so desperately trying to instill in my own children. As we have thought and prayed about this topic of instilling an attitude of thankfulness in our kids, here are a few ideas we came up with. We would love to hear some of yours as well, so please feel free to post!
1.) Parents must MODEL.
In a “Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do” parental world philosophy, it’s easy to forget that the most important lesson of thankfulness that we deliver to our children is not in our words, but in our daily actions. Taking time to show them what I have to be thankful for is fundamental.
Make no mistake – kids HEAR (sometimes more than we want them to!). Sure I can sit down with them over our morning waffles to have an intellectually stimulating conversation about the necessity of gratitude in our daily life, but how much more poignant if they overhear me telling their daddy how much I appreciate something thoughtful he does…they HEAR. Perhaps it is a teacher that I take time to thank for going the extra mile with my children…they HEAR. Maybe they are in the presence of me thanking our waiter for the wonderful food and friendly service…they HEAR.
The Biblical truth in Isaiah 28:10 most certainly applies, “Precept upon precept, Line upon line, here a little, and there a little.” Thankfulness and gratitude cannot be taught and mastered in a day. As we so wonderfully learned in Sunday school from the children of Israel, so we as parents need to daily seize opportunities to nurture a genuine spirit of thankfulness in our children.
I love to hear our children play house! Oh the chuckles my husband & I share as we listen to their perception of our roles in their lives. They will sweetly call each other ‘Honey’ and ‘Sweetheart,’ as they have heard us do so many times. How fun it is to hear them echo what we have practiced (most days!). The same is true of our role in being their gratitude model. I want to be ever mindful that I am teaching them to emulate a spirit of thankfulness in whatever situation God places them in.
2.) Look for opportunities to thank THEM
Now this may seem to go hand-in-hand with the first point, but it is important to show our children that not only are we thankful to others, but that THEY are valued and cherished. In order to show a child HOW to be thankful, it is so important for them to understand how THEY feel when someone is truly GRATEFUL for them!
This may seem miniscule, but taking the time to tell them how thoughtful their coloring (or scribbling) page drawn ‘just for you’ can cause such a wellspring of pride to a child no matter how young or old they are (at least, from what we hear, until they become teenagers – all bets are apparently off then!). Recently, my middle daughter, Hannah, spent some time in my school classroom drawing a page. When she hopped in the car she handed it to me, declaring that she had made it just for me. When she does this sometimes I’ll say a quick ‘thanks’ and keep on going as I set it beside me, but this time I stopped before pulling out, pulled her to me, and told her how much I appreciated the time SHE spent doing that just for me. It only took a few seconds, but the giggle that erupted from her sweet smile was more than payment enough. She hopped to her seat and shouted, “Mommy, do you know why I drew that page just for you?” I asked her why, and she matter-of-factly said, as only a 4-year old can, “Because I really love you, momma.” Wow!!! What a full heart I pulled out of the parking lot with at that moment. She felt appreciated and I felt loved! Amazing how the two go hand-in-hand. Those moments cannot come often enough. I know they are fleeting as my time with my little ones will be short, but I want to make the most of each one.
Some things we have learned the hard way: NEVER throw away their precious pages…..now this may seem to go against our clutter article, but wait…….in their presence. I had a wonderful college professor tell us to never place students’ papers in the trash….until they go home. Scott and I do it at night when they are sleeping and are sure to either take it out, or cover it up. I will often place a picture that they bring to us on the refrigerator and then rotate it when a new one comes. Young children especially do not understand why we cannot keep every scrap of paper. With four little ones I would be swimming in it, so we weed through it and only keep the most sentimental ones for their scrap books and toss the rest, but not until 1.) we have taken time to praise them, 2.) AND they are sound asleep snoring!
3.) ENCOURAGE and provide avenues of thanksgiving
As parents, we have to occasionally (OK, often!) prompt our children to show acts of thankfulness. Our end goal is ultimately that they will eventually WANT to do this on their own but, unfortunately, they were not born with this desire. Our ol’ sin nature pops up all the time! Consequently, we have to constantly remind them! Take moments to bring them paper to make a thank-you card or a coloring page to thank someone. If you see they have been given something and haven’t thanked the person, whisper a gentle reminder in their ear. I know I HATE having to remind them, especially in front of others, but oh the pay-off when they begin to REMEMBER on their own! It encourages me that the HARD work is worth it!
4.) REWARD attitudes of gratefulness
Please note: this is not bribery! Thankfully the Lord rewards us, so it is good to speak a child’s language and reward them with positive reinforcement for attitudes and actions filled with gratitude. A sticker chart or marble jar (my teacher flair is coming out) is a great reward for younger children for them to SEE their thankfulness grow! Also, don’t forget the little hugs, pats, and praise that remind them of the importance of gratitude. It is amazing how contagious this is for the whole family to catch!
5.) REINFORCE thankfulness
On the flip side of positive reinforcement, comes a little of the dreaded NEGATIVE reinforcement. I know that we live in a very ‘self-esteem’ driven time, but sometimes negative reinforcement is necessary in the arena of thankfulness education. I know that this is not popular, but we all need correction, so as parents, we must correct the un-thankful, complaining spirits as they arise.
This is never pleasant – just ask the Old Testament children of Israel. They sure do get a bad rap for their behavior, but each of us, parents included, are much the same. We so quickly forget all God’s goodness in the moment of hardships. Even sometimes in the blessings, we can forget all the bountiful grace God has so richly given. If we all are prone to this, then as parents, we need to be on guard to not allow this cancer to spread in our homes.
On occasion, we have had to take away things to remind our tikes to be thankful for what they have. As parents we relish the JOY and delight our children have, but beyond this we have a responsibility to our Creator to prayerfully discipline our children to be thankful, so that when they are older that instilled attitude of thankfulness will lead to the kind of joy only a spirit of contentment can bring.
There is no easy-step or neatly laid out plan for every child as all children are unique. Finding what motivates each child is the challenge of every parent and teacher. With much prayer we strive to do just that with our children. While parenting can often be a grueling, painstaking task, we are responsible to the best parent of all, our Heavenly Father, to nurture and train HIS children to be grateful.
Colossians 2:6-7 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.