How to Teach Gratitude to Our Children

A heart that is thankful

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

We were sitting with a couple, who are dear friends, around a table, nestled in the back corner of a restaurant. Behind us was a wall of windows, giving us the perfect view of what was on the other side. We could almost feel the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean with our perspective. Its waves crashed with an odd mixture of elegance and anger. Back and forth and back forth.

Directly across from us, were our friends, along with the husband’s father. At some point during dinner, the husband’s father’s eyes sprang widely open. Kind of like a kid on Christmas morning who just discovered the big present under the tree was his! Pointing his hand toward the window we had been peering through earlier, he exclaimed, “Look at that sunset!”

His enthusiasm forced us to turn our heads. And just in time as the sun was disappearing, like a hot burning coal being swallowed up by the ocean. His enthusiasm became our enthusiasm. His awe, ours. What caught his eyes and captured his heart, did the same for us.

Now, there is one more detail you should know about that dinner in Southern California. The man who spotted that sunset lives within thirty minutes of that restaurant. And the ocean. If that isn’t enough, he was 90 years old at the time of that dinner. In other words, that was not his first sunset! But he saw it and appreciated it as if it was.

We’ll never forget that night. Or the impression it made on us. His awe and thankfulness became ours.

A heart that is thankful to God is a heart that imparts thankfulness to others.

It’s amazing how often the Bible tells us to be thankful. Or records for us, God’s people giving God praise. For example, the psalmist declares in Psalm 106:1 (NIV),

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.

He doesn’t say, “give thanks, for things are good.” He says, “give thanks” because God is good. His love endures and goes on and on and on.

The psalmist shows us we should praise God because of God’s character and not our circumstances.

Or in the New Testament, we read the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Colossae. He writes,

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. — Colossians 2:6-7 NIV

Paul is telling us that praise is a byproduct of presence. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (Galatians 2:20 NIV). He is present in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we abide in Jesus, root ourselves deeply in Jesus, receive His love and truth, we experience growth in Jesus. And the fruit we will bear is praise, thankfulness, or gratitude. We will increasingly become a person who is “overflowing thankfulness.”

Unless, of course, we allow gratefulness to be choked out.

We don’t know about you, but we are often “overflowing.” The problem is what we are overflowing with! Which can be true for our children too. We can ooze with the desire for more. More things. We can overflow with complaining — always giving critical commentary on what needs to be done, what would have been better to say, and what we’d rather have.

What God desires, and what He commands, is for us to become people who are overflowing with thankfulness increasingly. Gratitude is what should ground us, no matter what we are facing. And gratitude always guards us against a heart that is prone to complain or be consumed by lesser things.

So, here is the simple truth when it comes to our family:

The best way to pass on gratitude to our kids is to possess gratitude as a parent.

Thankfulness is not trivial in God’s eyes. It is not optional. A grateful person is someone who sees all that they have from God that they don’t deserve from God. Nothing helped me (Patrick) see this more than my cancer diagnosis in 2018. Being told you have incurable cancer puts things into perspective quickly.

Oddly, death has taught me more about life than I ever thought it would. Everything matters more to us now. There is new gratefulness for even small things — the seemingly mundane.

A walk around the neighborhood.
A car ride to a child’s practice.
Dinner together as a family.
Sharing coffee with a friend.
And yes, even a sunset we’ve witnessed thousands of times before.
Most of all, we are grateful for who God is and what He has done. Everything He has given us is a gift.

We can model thankfulness to our children by being content with what we have, resisting the desire always to have something new, or better. Gratitude grows when we express it to a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member. We can pass on thankfulness by how we talk, showing our kids what we are grateful for by what we say. And we can teach gratitude by pointing our kids to Jesus, the God who has saved us, forgiven us, and given the hope of new life. And a life that never ends.

No matter what we are facing. No matter what we have. No matter what we think we don’t have. If we have Jesus, we have everything. And everything He has given us is far more than we deserve. There is much we have to be grateful for!

So, let’s believe that. Let’s preach that to our hearts if we have to. With God’s help, in our attitude and actions, let’s teach our kids to be thankful. Because one of the simple ways we can teach our children to be grateful is to be grateful ourselves.

Blessings,

Patrick and Ruth Schwenk

Written for Devotionals Daily by Patrick and Ruth Schwenk, authors of Faith Forward Family Devotional.

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Your Turn

Does the sunset cause you to rejoice in awe? Do the seemingly mundane, average, daily things awaken your gratitude? The best way to teach our kids to be grateful is to overflow with thankfulness ourselves! So, what are you thankful for? Come share with us on our blog! ~ Devotionals Daily

Ruth Schwenk

Like you, Ruth wears many hats! She loves being the wife of a pastor, who is her best friend and love of her life. She is a grateful homeschooling mom of four beautiful children, and also a hopeful mom who looks forward to seeing her five miscarried children in heaven. Ruth is a graduate of The Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL. On August 1st, 2011, Ruth launched TheBetterMom.com, a site dedicated to moms who want to be better moms by sharing life and learning together, to the glory of God. In September 2013, her and her husband launched FortheFamily.org, dedicated to helping Christian families. Ruth’s passions include, loving God, leading worship, and inspiring others to have a God honoring family.

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