by Teresa Sayles
Throughout Scripture, we are reminded to give thanks. Why is that? And how do you help children understand the importance of living in gratitude?
The benefits of giving thanks are countless, and research shows those who choose to live with an attitude of gratitude tend to be far happier, have better relationships, and even live healthier lives. But aside from all that, God knows that when we live with thanks in our hearts, we are clearing space for Him to speak and move. If we are consumed with needs and wants and anger and frustration, our hearts become closed off. But gratitude opens the heart. It allows the little things to enter and delight us. It relishes in the ordinary and rejoices over the extraordinary. And that is exactly how the heart of God beats, as well. Our gratitude can help us to live more like God whose heart is always open and whose delight in the big and the small is equal and without measure.
So, part of learning to have God’s heart is to be thankful. Great – But how do you translate for a four-year-old? Gratitude is a very abstract concept for young children. What about a twelve-year-old? How do you help him or her cultivate an attitude of gratitude when so much of the world seems to be going the opposite direction?
It starts with you. Gratitude is a learned behavior. Babies don’t come into the world with an instinctive need to say thanks. It’s more like the opposite. But that they do have an instinct to mimic and learn and grow. And they are watching you as their mentor in the process. If you choose to live with humble gratitude each day, going out of your way to express your thanks and let others know you appreciate them, your kids will see that example and learn from it. Will they always say thanks from there on out? Not a chance. But they’ll be further down that road.
You can also help your children cultivate hearts and minds that can find something for which to be thankful in most any situation. Point out the little things to your kids. Help them see the beauty in a seashell, the joy of snuggling in for a movie night, the wonder of a birthday gift, and the taste of a savory meal. Let your words of gratitude encourage your kids to give voice to what they are seeing and experience. Provide time each day – perhaps at mealtime or just before bed – when they can share these things, but it’s also important to encourage them to be expressing their thanks in the moment, as well. It’s also good to keep a record of some kind.
I recently lost my aunt to cancer, and while it has been extremely sad for our family to lose her, I was able to open up the gratitude journals I’ve kept over the years and rediscover wonderful memories with her I had jotted down. Some I clearly remembered, but there were others I’d nearly forgotten about, and it was so good to have the reminder. Find ways to help your children record the things they’re grateful for, whether it be through a writing journal, a sketchbook, a scrapbook, or even a photo journal.
Thanksgiving as a holiday can easily be overshadowed by excitement over delicious food and shopping deals. This year, though, I would encourage you to put gratitude front and center. Choose to set the example, be vocal about your own thanksgiving, help your children to see their own blessings, and give them tangible ways of expressing that gratitude. But don’t just do so this week. Make the conscious choice to teach your children the value of gratitude every day.