While toddlers can be trained to say “please” and “thank you,” true gratitude takes much longer to cultivate. None of us are born with a heart bent towards always giving thanks, so it is something that must be learned and practiced. The first place to start when desiring to teach our children anything is with ourselves. How often do you find yourself starting a sentence with, “I am so thankful . . .”? It is so easy to fall into the trap of entitlement and discontentment. If we want grateful children, we ourselves must see our world with a grateful eye and heart.
Make gratitude a daily part of your conversation. It can be practiced on the way home from school, around the dinner table, or as part of a nightly bedtime routine. Older children can be encouraged to journal their thankfulness in a daily blessing book. Don’t make gratitude a seasonal attitude that only appears during November.
When gratitude grows in your heart, a natural response is generosity. Work together as a family to help others in need. This isn’t always a financial response. It can be your time. Also, don’t deny your children the opportunity of service in your home. Giving them simple tasks of helping with household chores helps them develop an appreciation for the effort that goes into a well-run home.
Sadly, thank-you notes have almost become extinct in our society. Help your child craft thank-you drawings or notes for others. You can begin by having small children dictate the note, and as they grow older they can draft them on their own. While the medium may change due to technological advances, notes of thanks should never disappear.
Gratitude is not just a feeling—it is a choice. In learning to choose gratitude, it is helpful to fill our hearts with Scripture and songs. It is difficult for bitterness to take root when your mind is filled with blessings. The book of Psalms is an excellent resource in time of pain, grief, and loss. The psalmist reminds us that in the midst of trials our hope is found in Christ. Your child’s life will not be free from hurt. Teach your children songs that will re-tether their hearts to a Savior Who can be trusted at all times. Happiness isn’t always tied to what is happening!
Sure, being in the presence of thankful children is more pleasant than listening to whiny ones, but it goes far beyond that. By choosing gratitude, children become less absorbed with themselves and more sensitive to the needs of others. Remember the most precious possession we can share with others is our knowledge of the Savior. When we realize all Christ has done for us, undeserving as we are, gratitude should overflow and propel us into action.