Two simple words, yet they mean so much.
When said with warmth, sincerity and integrity, they communicate love and appreciation. Yet when said with sarcasm or guilt, they can leave you feeling undervalued and dismissed.
Ironically, these are also some of the first words we teach our children.
My husband and I taught our kids to sign “thank you” before they could even speak. While they know when to say it, I can’t say it’s always filled with the appropriate sincerity. The truth is, when our children are young, they usually only respond with “thank you’s” after gentle prodding or when given the look (you know which look I mean, parents).
While it’s important for our kids to express gratitude even before they know why they’re doing it, it’s equally important to work on developing a heart of thanksgiving in our children.. We don’t want the concept of gratitude to be simply understood, but to be embraced and displayed as a natural expression of their heart.
So what’s the secret lesson to cultivating a heart of thanksgiving?
The best lessons I’ve learned are from what NOT to do — rather than a list of foolproof ideas of what’s worked. To be honest, I think I have learned more from my failures as a parent than from what I have done well.
So with that, I give you 3 sure-fire ways to steal gratitude from your kids. (this is what NOT to do):
Have you ever made your children clean their plates by telling them about how many starving children there are in third-world nations? Guilt may elicit temporary obedience, but it is not the answer for instilling long-term gratitude in our children.
Just as guilt makes our children believe they have done something wrong, shame tells them that there is something wrong about them. Barraging our children with shameful words is one of the most damaging things we can do to their young spirits and it often starts a chain reaction of repeat behavior with their friends and classmates to make themselves feel better.
My husband and I were no strangers to telling our kids how “frustrated” we were over their selfishness, until a counselor pointed out that it wasn’t their behavior that was the problem, it was our own anger (and “frustrated” is just a code word and cover up for that ugly emotion). As parents, we need to first recognize our own emotions before we begin to project them onto our kids.
How do we overcome these easy traps? The best piece of advice I can give you is this:
practice gratitude daily.
That’s right! Gratitude must be cultivated… and it must be done daily.
Start by asking your kids what they’re thankful for before school. Leave a note in their backpacks about something you’re grateful for about them. Finish your evening by gathering together as a family before bed and reflecting on something each of you were thankful for that day.
Perhaps one of the most powerful practices of gratitude is helping your kids learn to find something to be grateful for in the midst of difficulty, sorrow or loss. Once they put this into practice, they will eventually cultivate a habit of their own. It’s beautiful to watch kids learn to walk in thanksgiving to God no matter the circumstances!
Older children might start a gratitude journal, setting a goal to count to 100, 500, or even 1000 things that they are thankful for in a year (One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp is a great book to read with your teenage daughters). For younger children, a fun resource is the new board book Count My Blessings 1-2-3, where kids are led to count to ten with Mom and Dad as they see the many different ways God blesses them: with food, clothes, a house, a loving Mommy and Daddy, and more! This unique board book features bold, colorful cut-outs on each spread that showcase the blessings in a fun, dynamic way. What better way to teach little ones to count than learning about God’s blessings?
So whether you’re starting to put this into practice with your baby or teenager, remember one thing: it starts with you. Helping your kids practice daily thankfulness begins by making sure you’re not stealing gratitude with your own attitude. And of course, we must make sure to root our day in the One to whom we owe our ultimate gratitude — Jesus Christ.
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Taking stock of the blessings around us every day may be the most important skill we can teach our children. How do you teach your children about gratitude on a daily basis?