It’s very important to me that my children be grateful. My family didn’t have a lot of money. It seemed easier to be grateful for what we had. My children have a lot more than I did and I was concerned that they could be selfish and spoiled as a result. I have been intentional about encouraging gratitude in my children over the years and I have developed some strategies that I think have been effective. I want to share them with you.
The first strategy is to pray daily with your children.
We begin our homeschool day with prayer. The first thing we each pray is what we are thankful for. When I first began this practice, there were often times when my children seemed confused about what to be grateful for. They needed time and wanted their siblings to go first. But the more we did it, the more exposure they had to all the things that their older brothers and I mentioned. My youngest has developed the funny habit of going on and on about what he’s thankful for. If your child is going to keep talking about something, I can’t think of a better topic.
The second strategy for encouraging gratitude is to make children pay for things.
Because I was so concerned that having more money would lead my children to be ungrateful, I required them to pay for any extras that they wanted. In our home that can be anything from candy to an iPod. While I was planning this podcast, my daughter asked if she could buy a new earring tree. I said she could with her own money. This led her to ask if there were any odd jobs she could do for me to make extra cash. When children learn how expensive things are by comparing prices to how much money they have in their accounts, they are more likely to respect what we purchase for them. I know every parent has a different viewpoint on allowance and chores, but I have always given my younger children an allowance. My older children are paid to do bigger chores like mowing the lawn and shipping books. The kids have also worked with their neighborhood friends to shovel driveways, sell lemonade, and wash dogs to add to their income if they aren’t old enough for an outside job. In addition to making children grateful, requiring children to pay for their wants (and not their needs) also encourages them to be frugal.
The next powerful way to encourage your children to be grateful is to have them listen to a missionary presentation.
My family has the advantage of having a missionary in our family. My sister-in-law travels and learns the needs of people in Third World countries. My children have willingly contributed from their own finances to pay for goats for children in need in Africa, for example. Another friend went on a missionary trip and presented her experiences in Bolivia for our co-op. She explained how raising giant guinea pigs provides for families there. Our family chose to support a child through World Vision as a result. If you don’t have a family member or friend who is a missionary, your church or another area church will likely have missionaries speaking.
The next way to cultivate gratitude in our children’s hearts is to read them true stories of people who are less fortunate.
I love the biography of George Mueller by YWAM. The description of orphans who did not have enough to eat or an education but by the grace of God and the ministry of George Muller, speaks powerfully to how blessed my children are. They have both parents living. They have enough food to eat. Other missionary stories by YWAM have helped my children see how fortunate they are that all their siblings are still living. The high school American literature book we are reading now– A Tree Grows in Brooklyn — also portrays hunger in a way my teens can empathize with.
The next way we can encourage our children to be grateful is to have them participate in servant events.
My children and I have participated in food packing events for Feed My Starving Children. I don’t think that simply packing meals and working hard for an hour and a half would convince my children to be grateful. But the videos that are shown after we are done have touched their hearts. This last event we participated in included a video of a young boy who was left in the hot sun on his knees all day, every day. He was extremely emaciated, unable to walk or speak. A woman with the organization asked his mother if she could take him and nurse him back to health and the mother agreed. Video footage of this young boy thriving in response to being fed was so powerful for me and I know it had to be for my children. See if there is a Feed My Starving Children food packing event in your area. I’ll share the link in the show notes. If not, contact charitable organizations in your area. See if they are willing to talk with your family or co-op about the needs in their own community. Another excellent servant event for your kids to participate in Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox ministry. Our homeschool support group serves as a collection point for boxes. During a Thanksgiving activity, videos of children joyfully receiving their shoeboxes helps kids understand that not every child receives the kinds of gifts they do.
Finally, we can encourage our children to be grateful by keeping a prayer journal.
There is so much to be grateful for. We are not only grateful for having enough food to eat and having a family member still with us, but we are grateful for every answered prayer that demonstrates God’s continued love for us. This is something I want to begin in the coming year. I want to record our prayers in a journal and their answers, so my children and I can review God’s faithfulness to us. Thanksgiving would be a wonderful time to read every answered prayer that you have had in the past year. Encourage your children to think small. We aren’t always able to see the results of prayers for salvation, but we can see answered prayer for colds being healed quickly or a child being able to play a sport well. We can use our prayer journals to record God’s supernatural comfort and peace even in the face of prayers that aren’t answered exactly the way we had hoped. You can use any notebook for this, but I created prayer journal templates for you to print and use.
When we use these steps to cultivate gratitude in our children’s hearts, the bonus is that they will also experience joy. Psychological research supports the idea that being grateful and serving others are powerful approaches to instilling happiness. Of course, as we teach our children gratitude, we can find our own joy growing as well.
How do you teach your children gratitude? Join the conversation on Facebook.