Thursday, November 8, 2012

How Do I Teach My Children About Thankfulness?

Dear Anne,
I can see that your social media focus this month is a focus on thankfulness. I feel like I am starting to understand that more and more, but how do I teach my children to be thankful? It's not that they are greedy, but a lot of the time I feel like they expect all the things they receive instead of really appreciating it. Help!

-Not Wanting My Children to Be Brats

Dear Not Wanting My Children to Be Brats,

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful time to emphasize thankfulness within our family. However, like everything else in parenting, daily consistency is the best way to teach our children that thankfulness is an attitude that is important to God.

We teach our children whether we want to or not. Little eyes see our actions, and little ears hear our words, and then our children model what they have learned from us. My children, before they could properly pronounce the words, began to say “thank you” when someone gave them something they wanted.  That behavior was “caught” rather than “taught.” It did not necessarily indicate a grateful heart, but this simple behavior laid the groundwork for more difficult “heart work” to come.

As Christian parents, our greatest hope for our children is that they see their Creator as their greatest joy. It is difficult to desire the Giver of all good things if we are not content with what he has given. Often, we covet God’s gifts. It is a challenge to move beyond merely loving the blessings of God to being satisfied in Him. And let’s face it, with live in a culture where we and our children are constantly bombarded with messages to covet the newest and coolest.

Often in the Old Testament, we see Israel turn from God because they had “forgotten” what he had done for them in the past (Judges 8:34, Hosea 8:14, and Psalm 106:21). God tells us that we should always be speaking to our children about Him, so that they do not forget. Our voice may be the only one our children here challenging the messages of our culture. Certainly, Thanksgiving is a good time to reinforce the daily habit of thankfulness. During this special time of the year, we should model being thankful for the blessings that we have received.

On a practical note, my husband and I have found that an awareness of the lives of Christians outside of the United States has helped our children to appreciate what they have. My children were able to make friends with a set of siblings that are their age before that family left for Papua New Guinea to do tribal missions. That personal connection informs our five-year-old’s prayers. It taught her to think of others when shopping in the toy department for things that we could mail to her friends. It showed her that children who do not have television or video games are still blessed, because they know God and have their family.

We also pack a box or two for Samaritan’s Purse through our local church. After viewing the holiday toy catalog, my daughter dreams of the wonders found in its pages. These dreams are made more realistic when she understands that a child somewhere will only receive flip-flops for Christmas, and yet will appreciate them. Thanksgiving is also an ideal time to point out the many blessings that we have received as a family, and to remind our children that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights (James 1:17) who knows our needs (Matthew 6:32) and will withhold no good thing from His children (Psalm 84:11).

 *This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
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