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Raising Thankful Children

If you asked my grandmother what she remembers about Christmas when she was a little girl she would say not much.  Why?  Because they didn’t have anything.  There weren’t piles of presents under the tree for the children when they came down on Christmas morning.   There were no new bikes or dolls.  What does she remember getting?  A simple orange which was a luxury for the children.  They knew it and were thankful for it.

Can you imagine a child in our culture today receiving one orange for Christmas and being truly thankful for it?  I don’t know many children who would pass the test, do you?  (Go ahead and try it this Christmas and see what happens!)

Most children have more toys, clothes and electronics by the age of 3 then my grandma had her whole childhood!  So in an entitled culture, how do we prevent raising ungrateful, spoiled children and instead, purposely raise up children who have thankful hearts and attitudes?

First of all, teach your child what the Bible says about being thankful.  As the standard for the way in which we live our lives and train up our children, we should be teaching our children what the Bible tells us in regards to being thankful.  Contrary to what we may wish, there is no place in the Bible that tells us that we should be thankful when we feel like it or when everything goes our way.

Rather, being thankful is a choice.  It’s a way of thinking.  It’s an attitude.  First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The Apostle Paul tells us to give thanks in ALL circumstances.  Do all circumstances make us happy?  Of course not.  Not everything in life works out how we want it to.  Life is full of daily frustrations, annoyances and disappointments.  But Paul doesn’t give us an option does he?  He doesn’t say to only give thanks when you are happy and feel like it.

The Bible is full of verses that tell us to rejoice and give thanks.  1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Take time learning what Scripture says about being thankful and teach it to your children.

Secondly, show your children what genuine thankfulness looks like.  How do children learn?  They mimic what they hear and see.  If your children see you mumbling and grumbling, what do you think they will do?  Mumble and grumble just like you!  On the other hand, if you demonstrate a thankful spirit, they will be more likely to, too!

When your child helps you fold laundry or put the dishes away, thank them for it.  Let them know that you are grateful for their help.  When your son holds the door open for you, thank him for it.  When your daughter plays with her younger siblings so you can get a few things done without someone clinging to your leg, thank her for it.  When your spouse helps you carry in the groceries, cooks dinner or watches the children so you can have some time to yourself, let your children hear you thank them for it.

My 2 year old daughter tries to repeat everything I say.  Even though she doesn’t quite grasp everything that I say at this age, it doesn’t prevent me from beginning to teach her how to be thankful.  When I ask her to pick up a toy off the floor and she hands it to me, I say, “thank you” to her because I want her to hear and know these words from the get go.   When I give her something, I say “thank you” in return.  (It’s actually amazing how fast they pick it up!)

Children learn good and bad habits from their parents from the very beginning.  What are some other ways you can show your children how to be thankful?  Are there stories from other people that you can share with your child to show how to be thankful in all things?

One that comes to mind is the story of Corrie Ten Boom who survived the horrible concentration camps back in WWII.  A part in her book, The Hiding Place, talks about how she and her sister were thankful for lice!  Can you imagine?  Though the lice were an annoying burden to them, Corrie saw them as a blessing because it allowed them privacy in the bunks to worship God!  The Germans refused to come in to their barracks because of the problem.

Thirdly, as hard as this is, don’t give your child everything his or her little heart desires.   Of course, this is far from easy, especially when you have family members who love to spoil your children.  Though Grandma and Grandpa mean well when they buy little Susie everything she asks for, giving her everything ends up training her to be unthankful for anything.

Several weeks ago, my daughter Ivy and I were browsing the children section at Barnes & Noble.  She loves looking at the books and giving endless hugs to all the adorable stuffed animals.  In this particular instance, she found a cute furry kitten purse, perfect for a 2 year old little girl.  When it was time to leave the store, I took the purse from Ivy and placed it back on the shelf.  What happened?  What we all dread when we are in a store – a screaming, crying child!

Within a few minutes of leaving the store, she had already forgotten about the purse and was on to the next thing.  I had made up my mind before that she wasn’t going to get anything and I especially wasn’t going to give in just because she was throwing a fit.  When I was retelling this story to my grandma, what was her response?  “Well, how much was the purse?”   My grandma had missed the point!

I don’t want my daughter to have everything her little heart desires.  I want my daughter to appreciate what she has.  And yes, I know that my 2 year old daughter doesn’t understand that I’m trying to get her to appreciate what she has right now.  But what she is learning now is that she doesn’t get whatever she wants, whenever she wants.  I’m trying to set the very basics of being thankful now rather than when it’s too late.

As I said, I’m trying. This is not an easy task for parents, as it’s easier to give in and not hear your child cry or complain in a store, but it is only easier for YOU. In reality, it couldn’t be further from being easier for your children.

May I encourage you in this great journey to continue doing the best you can, raising up your children ultimately in the fear of the Lord!  For as the Bible tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6

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