Nothing bespeaks faith like thankfulness and gratitude. Real, substantive gratitude connects us to each other as givers and receivers. It makes us more like God—the giver of all good gifts.
On the contrary, nothing is more discouraging for parents than a child who, when given great blessings, fails to recognize them or be thankful. So, as we head into the seasons of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, it is time to prepare.
Gratitude is an art and it is contagious. As a parent, you have the responsibility to train your child in how to show thanks (which is actually a really important step toward feeling gratitude). Learning this art prepares the heart for the reality of the form for which it is being fitted (that is a fancy way of saying: acting thankful can help you eventually to be thankful.) The right responses will not come naturally or in the heat of the battle. Wise parents prepare presently for the delights of this blessed season.
So, here are three keys for cultivating gratitude in the hearts of your children:
Key #1: Get Outside Your Bubble and Serve
Too often we don’t have the right perspective on thankfulness because we don’t see the ocean of blessing that is overwhelming us. At Veritas, we have discovered a great thing that helps students get outside themselves: that is the Guatemala Mission Trip. When students, teachers, and parents, go on this trip; they often come back with a whole new attitude toward things. For my daughter, she actually struggled for a time just being at peace with the blessings that she has. We should thank God for His blessings, but we should also be committed to using his blessings in the way that He calls people to use them all through the Scriptures. The principle is this: we are blessed to be a blessing.
You might not be able to go to Guatemala every week, but you can find someone around you to bless. Talk with your pastor and find an elderly person to serve. Serve at the Water Street Rescue Mission in Lancaster. Visit family members or serve in one of the retirement communities in Lancaster. Teach your children to be a blessing. Help them to see and work to alleviate the sufferings of others.
Key #2: Learn the Habits of Thanksgiving and Practice Them
Thankfulness is an art. It is NOT just a mental exercise. When you receive a gift or when someone serves or helps you, thank them. Do this personally and do it in a way that teaches this habit to your children. Start simple. Practice on Sunday by reviewing the week and discovering who has blessed you. Have your children write that person a simple thank you note. Don’t type it. Don’t send an email. There is nothing that displays personal thanks more than a hand-written note (especially in cursive). These are artifacts and you will often find that these notes have a massive impact on the people who receive them. I have a file of kind notes that I have received over the years. If I am having a really bad day, I pull down the file and reada few. It picks me up.
With Christmas coming, be intentional. When your child receives gifts, thank the person verbally and with a note.
Key #3: Connect the Gospel and God’s Grace With the Holidays and The Gifts That You Receive
Help your child to understand the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas by studying some of the history of these events. Thanksgiving has rich tradition of gratitude. Here are a few things to read with your family:
- The Record of the First Thanksgiving in North America. It was actually in Florida—not Plymouth!
- Governor Bradford’s Thanksgiving Proclamation at Plymouth.
- Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation during the War Between the States
- Franklin Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Proclamation during the Great Depression
For Christmas focus on God’s grace in the gift of Christ. Here are some great
resources for incredible stories of giving and inspiration:
- GK Chesterton’s Poems: This includes some of his great Christmas Poems.
- (For the more philosophical sorts) Margaret Visser’s The Gift of Thanks
- And always, always watch the Charlie Brown Christmas and then listen to Vince Guaraldi’s Music..
- Finally, encourage your children to give gifts to each other. Give them money if you have to, but help them to be thoughtful.
Remember, thankfulness takes root in a heart showered with patience and in an environment of joy. This thankfulness then, of course, becomes the foundation of greater joy. Work on this now, and you may well watch the joy and gratitude cascade into the future.