It feels like every year as the weather cools, my children begin plotting all they want for Christmas even before we have started to plan for the turkey and stuffing. Hearing about the long lists coming together can fill my heart with frustration. Can we not simply be thankful for all that we have? They have so much, why can’t they be content?
I know I am not the only parent in history who has experienced this frustration. Our natural bent is selfishness, wanting more and more. We naturally lack contentment and thankfulness. It pours out of us through our attitudes and actions. The evidence is clear if we look around long enough, and it is a reflection we can see in our children.
We must teach our children what thankfulness and contentment look like, and they will learn it from watching us.
When we open Scripture, it is obvious that thankfulness should be an ever-present attitude in our lives and in the life of our family. The word “Thankfulness” is used over 130 times throughout the Bible. Needless to say, our thanks should be abundant and at all times. But, the real question becomes, how do we teach this to the little hearts that are in our home – the same ones who are feverishly creating page-long Christmas lists.
We must focus on ways to plant seeds of thankfulness in their hearts. As parents, we can pray that God would do the work within them while we show them what real gratitude looks like on the outside.
In our home, I have sought out ways to cultivate hearts of gratitude not just in my children but in myself as well. They are not the only ones who need to be taught and reminded that a thankful heart is a good medicine. Here are five things I have done to teach my children how to put the thanks in Thanksgiving. We call them seeds of gratitude.
- Create a thankful tree – Each year, the kids and I grab a foam poster board and construction paper. We cut out a tree trunk and a variety of leaves in different shapes and colors. You will need enough leaves for every child to have one to write on each day over the month of November. Each day the kids are tasked with writing something that they are thankful for on a leaf for the tree. At the end of the month, we step back and look at all the beautiful things that God has blessed us with. We have one rule for the tree – no repeats. This gets them thinking beyond family members to all the other things that God has given to them.
- Lead at the table – On the nights that you gather around the table for dinner, take time to go around and say one thing that you are thankful for in each person. This is where we, as parents, can take the lead and show them that we are thankful for them in a variety of ways. Think of unique ways you are grateful for your child. Maybe your child was helpful without being asked, or they did something kind for someone else. Be sure to pay attention to new ways each day you can be thankful for your kids, and they will begin to do the same.
- Thankful Verses – Nothing puts our hearts and minds into focus life Scripture. Keeping verses written around the house or even sharing a verse over breakfast is a simple way to keep the focus on thankfulness. We often keep verses on sticky notes around the house. I place the notes on their bathroom mirrors, in their bookbags, or in little places where I know they will see it most often. Here are a few verses that you can use; Psalm 100:4, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 2:7, Colossians 4:2, Psalm 9:1, Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
- Send notes of thanks – A critical element of thankfulness is sharing it with those who mean the most to you. Ask your children if there are people in their lives they can express gratitude for; a teacher, Pastor, friend, etc. Have your child pick someone to write a letter to, sharing their thankfulness, just as Paul did in the letter to the Philippians. “I give thanks in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:4). Help them to list specific ways they are thankful for this person, listing things that have meant something special to them. Let them be creative in how they create their letters and express their thanks.
- Count your blessings – This is an excellent idea for older children, as it will be a bit more self-guided. Give your child an empty notebook or lined journal. This will become their gratitude journal, a place for them to count their blessings. Each day have them write a few things down on the pages of their journal that they are thankful for, numbering each one starting with number one. Challenge them to grow their list each day and see how many blessings they can count in the month of November. This is a great task for a visual learner who needs to see in order to understand or grasp the full idea of gratitude. They will be able to look back on their journal and be reminded of all the incredible things that God has done in their lives.
More than anything listed on these pages, let them see you walk with a thankful heart. Allow your children to see you live out Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling and complaining.” Don’t just stop there; let them see you rejoice and be glad.
A Thankful heart produces joy and gladness. No matter what.
We have spent time over these years implementing, these tasks over the month of November, and found that they help to take the focus off of want and place our hearts in a place of contentment. Make it your family mission this fall to focus on planting and cultivating those seeds of thankfulness that you are planting. Ask God to water the seeds in their hearts and remind them every day of His glorious goodness and all the things that we can thank Him for.