Teaching Thankfulness



What have we done? It’s easy to see. We have smashed Christmas right into Halloween. As a lover of all things Christmas, I am definitely guilty (my tree is up already), but what is almost lost here is Thanksgiving. What can be lost, if we are not careful, is a wonderful opportunity for helping our children learn to give thanks.

We have turned Christmas into the ultimate “I want more, more, more” day and we are rushing right past our prime opportunity to remind our children to be grateful for what they have.

This is no small thing. The Bible teaches over and over the importance of giving thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (CSB) This is much more than a suggestion. We are commanded to give thanks.

Do you know why? Giving thanks is vital to placing us in right relationship with God. When we learn to acknowledge that everything we have comes from Him, we also learn to acknowledge that we are dependent on Him. Without this awareness, we will never be right in our relationship with our God. Thankfulness is a reminder that He is God and I am not.

However, thankfulness does not come naturally to us. Your child will not spontaneously be grateful. Your child will by nature be greedy and self-focused. So are we all! Children need us to teach them to be thankful. They need us to help them form the habit of gratitude, not greed.

Although one day of the year does not go far in forming a habit, the Thanksgiving holiday does give us a chance to help children focus on being thankful. Even better, it gives us the opportunity to focus on being thankful together as families.

Perhaps your family already has traditional ways of doing this. Several families I know make cut-out leaves the children can decorate. During the days leading up to Thanksgiving, family members write on the leaves, naming specific things they are thankful for. During Thanksgiving dinner, the leaves are used to decorate the table or fill a centerpiece. At some point, family members read out loud what has been written. Some families record what God has done in their lives during the past year and keep a sort of annual Thanksgiving album. In our family, we simply go around the table and each person tells what they are thankful for. Find a way that feels right to you. It may need to be turned into a sort of guessing game. You might take turns saying something like “I am thinking of something I’m thankful for. It is something that is parked in our garage and every day we use it to get us where we need to go.” Even very young children can succeed in this kind of giving-clues-and-guessing game. Don’t let the teaching opportunity of Thanksgiving go by!

Determine that thankfulness will become a focus for your family throughout the year. Here are three principles to keep in mind as you do that.

  • Model Gratitude. Be grateful yourself, and express that aloud to your children. Let them see you show gratitude to other people and gratitude to God above all.
  • Give Perspective. Intentionally plan ways your family can help others whose circumstances are different from yours. Let your children see how much they have compared to others. There is always something to be grateful for. This perspective brings contentment and the understanding that God gives us gifts to be used in service of others.
  • Help Children Develop the Habit of Gratitude. Set your mind that this habit must be taught in the same way as brushing teeth, making up beds, doing homework. Thankfulness is a discipline, but it is a spiritually significant discipline. Make it a focus of your parenting.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm136:1

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