Amazing, isn’t it, the way a beautiful holiday that strives to focus on having thankful hearts immediately flows into a season that seems focused on everything BUT thankful hearts? Oh, the irony.
I’m not here to bash holiday traditions of any sort, but you know as well as I do what a “gimme” society we have become. The upcoming holiday season will likely reveal it more glaringly than virtually anything else. While we want our children to be happy and even to have many of the things they want, I think we also struggle sometimes with where to draw the line on discontentment. None of us want to raise children with a sense of entitlement. We don’t want to see our children consumed by their own selfishness and greed or depressed in life by what they don’t have and can’t seem to obtain.
We want to raise thankful children.
So how do we do it? Raising grateful kids in a world that seems bent on driving their discontent often feels like an uphill battle. But there are some steps we can take to help!
Though there is no doubt that there are more things you can do to encourage grateful hearts in your children, here are 3 things that can be especially helpful:
Introduce your kids to the less fortunate.
Often there is nothing that can make a person more aware of their blessings than meeting others who have less or who are facing greater hardships. No matter who you are, where you are from, or what your current situation is, there is probably someone worse off than you. Sometimes all it takes is a little volunteer work at a homeless shelter. A visit to a nursing home, cancer ward, or women’s shelter, too, can open a person’s eyes to the wealth of things he or she has to be thankful for. A news report from some natural disaster or a documentary on a third-world country can often have a similar effect, though nothing drives the point home like direct human interaction with someone whose needs are greater than your own.
And let me add that this isn’t often something that makes us comfortable, even as adults. Sometimes it requires stepping out of our own comfort zones and going into places where we feel awkward or nervous. Perhaps we’re even left physically or emotionally exhausted! Still, we can reap the benefit of truly thankful hearts in our children. (And in ourselves as well!)
Emphasize outward displays of gratitude.
It may seem like a small thing (and it is), but there is value just in teaching our kids to say thank you. The simple practice makes gratitude a priority and begins establishing it as a habit. And it should go beyond spoken words of thanks! Handwritten thank you cards may be old-fashioned, but they teach children to acknowledge the things they are grateful for in a thoughtful and concrete way. But, of course, never undervalue the impact of a phone call or video chat to say thanks, too! Again, your child is forced to acknowledge what he or she has to be thankful for, and that child is also being taught the value of showing others they are appreciated.
Encourage gratitude by demonstrating it.
I saved the toughest one for last! The painful truth is, nothing will teach our children to have a thankful heart like having one ourselves.
If we want thankful kids, we can’t spend our time bemoaning the things we can’t afford or complaining about the life circumstances that aren’t the way we wish they could be. Every mom, no matter how saintly she is, will sometimes struggle with discontentment. Life doesn’t always work out the way we hoped it would, and we rarely ever own all the things we would like to own.
To make it worse, there usually seems to be someone else who has everything we wish we could have! It may be wealth, success, health, happiness, a great family, or the perfect marriage. We can allow our own less-than-ideal circumstances to consume our thinking and bleed through in our words and actions, or we can learn to look for the silver linings in our lives and thank God for all the good things we have been given. I probably don’t have to tell you which of those things leads to a happier, more peaceful home and family!
When MOM is thankful, the gratitude will generally trickle down naturally from there!
How do you encourage thankful hearts in your children? What do you consider the best way to dispel a sense of entitlement and selfishness where your kids are concerned?