November is a month when we talk a lot about being thankful. So what are some practical ideas for teaching your child to have a grateful heart? Consider the following:
- Pray before you eat: Recognizing that the food we receive is a gift from God and thanking Him for it encourages thankfulness. Begin as soon as your children are able to sit in a highchair. Hold their hands and bow your head and say a short prayer. You’ll be surprised at how quickly even babies will learn that we should pray before we eat.
- Say please and thank you: Even before they can speak words, children can be taught to sign please and thank you. Saying thank you helps to generate a gracious attitude toward others. Saying thank you reminds us how much we have been given.
- Write thank you notes: When our children were babies and toddlers, I wrote thank you notes for our girls at birthdays and Christmas. When they were preschoolers, I encouraged them to tell me what they wanted to say in their notes and then I wrote it for them. Once they were able to write, I would write out what they wanted to say and have them copy it on a thank you note which I had already drawn lines on. We further encouraged the idea of being grateful for the gifts they received by having the rule in our house that you can’t use/play with a gift until you’ve thanked the giver. This still holds true in our house today and is a rule that my husband and I follow as well.
- Make a list: Encourage your children to make a list of all the things they appreciate about: their father, their mother, their grandparents, their pastor, their teacher, etc. Then have them write a note to that person, thanking them.
- Thank God: My husband and I pray together before we go to sleep. Many years ago we were challenged by a message that Gary Ezzo preached called “Were there not Ten?” which was about the healing that Jesus did to the 10 lepers but only one came back to thank Him. We resolved that we would spend our nighttime prayer time thanking God for what He had done that day and the things we were grateful for rather than asking Him for more. This has been a great exercise for us as a couple to increase our grateful spirit and would be a great habit for children to have also.
- Practice thankfulness daily: Go around at the dinner table each night and have each family member say one thing they are thankful for that day.
- Do chores: Have your children do chores. What does that have to do with teaching gratitude you might ask? Some of you have had the opportunity to make a meal for someone else in need. And some of you have had the blessing of having a meal made for you when you needed it. How did you feel about that meal? Grateful? Why? Because you know how much work goes into preparing a meal for someone else so when it is done for you, you are appreciative. By having our children do chores, we are helping them see how much effort it takes to get things done. When someone extends a courtesy to them by helping them with a chore, they are much more likely to be grateful than if they had never had to do that work themselves.
- Make a thankful tree: For many years, on the first day of November, we would draw a tree on a big piece of paper and hang it on our door. Each day in November, each member of the family would write down something on a construction paper leaf which he/she was thankful for and we would hang the leaves on the tree. As the month wore on, our tree was filled with God’s many blessings on our family. Because there were 6 of us writing down something each day, it became more challenging as the days progressed to think of something new to be thankful for.
- Read your Bible: Read biblical accounts which show the blessings of gratitude and contentment and the cursings of complaining and discontent. For example, have your children read through the history of the Israelites journey from Egypt to Canaan. Have them list the times that the Hebrew children murmured and complained and what the result of that was. Or point out the many places in the life of Jesus when it would have been easy for Him to complain. You will want to note how He responded instead and help your children see how they can learn to be more like Jesus. Or study Hebrews 11 as a family. Note how each person listed demonstrated contentment and gratitude.
- Make another list: Have your children write down all the things they desire but do not have. Have them bring the list to you and ask them to mark anything on the list that God would not be able to give them if He thought it was best for them. This is a good reminder of God’s sovereignty.
- Look for thankfulness: Notice when you see someone demonstrating gratitude and point that out to your children. Discuss whether it is easy or difficult to be grateful in those circumstances. Ask how they might remember to be grateful when they are faced with a similar situation.
- Serve: As your children get older, consider helping out at the city mission or at your church’s food pantry or volunteer to help out someone who is sick or elderly. It’s helpful for our kids to see that not everyone in this world has all the things that they have. This will again encourage a grateful heart.
Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character. (Heraclitus of Ephesus). Take time today to encourage a grateful heart in your children. You’ll be thankful you did!
Luona Nightingale is an experienced Contact Mom for Christian Family Heritage. She loves to help other moms by answering their questions and helping them implement the principles from Babywise and other Growing Families curricula. She and her husband Luke reside in upstate New York and are celebrating their silver anniversary this year. They are the parents of four adult daughters.