It’s almost Thanksgiving! When planning for a Thanksgiving celebration, as parents, we may first think of our plans for a meal – the turkey, mashed potatoes, pies – and we may even teach the story of the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans and Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation. While the food and history lesson are fun, we parents can be more intentional about the real reason for Thanksgiving – literally “thanks giving” or “giving thanks.” Think intentionally about how to teach children gratitude.
In the history of our country, our founders and leaders often called for days of thanksgiving and prayer or humiliation, fasting and prayer. They knew they were completely dependent on God, and they cried out to Him in times of need and thanked Him in times of plenty. We can continue this, day in and day out, by teaching our children to give thanks in all things. As the Bible says,
“Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Being grateful seems to come more naturally for some people, but regardless of personality, we can and should teach our children to be thankful. You might even say there are two types of people – those who grumble and those who are grateful. We all know it’s a drag to be around a grumbler, so let’s begin teaching thanksgiving to our children! We CAN learn to be grateful, and we CAN teach our children to be grateful. As Elisabeth Elliot said,
“It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than to complain about what is not given. One or the other becomes a habit of life.”
How to teach our children gratitude in all things is a good question. Better yet, how do we make gratitude a habit in our and our children’s lives?
1. Focus on what God has done for us.
When we remember what God has done – He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for us! – we realize how much we have to be thankful for. We can start with thanking God for his grace in our lives in our salvation, and then we will see so many more things to thank Him for! When we preach the gospel to ourselves and our children every day, thankfulness will soon become a habit.
2. Model gratitude.
Our words and actions are powerful pictures to our children of the state of our hearts. How we talk about the situations and people in our lives is important. Are we constantly complaining about work or house duties or the way others have treated us? We need to quit the grumbling and find words to talk about things in a positive light with a thankful heart. (There is a place for venting to a spouse or to God, but it is better done after the children are in bed.)
3. Demonstrate a thankful attitude.
Our children must hear us saying thank you to them for their help or acts of kindness. They should also hear us thanking our spouse, the cashier in the checkout line, and the stranger who holds the door open for us. Most importantly, they should hear us praying to God and thanking Him for his provision of our food at meals, for a safe journey, for the blessings of the day before bed, etc.
4. Keep a thankfulness journal.
Give each of your children a notebook or pretty journal, and encourage them to write down five things they are thankful for each day. This can be done when they have a personal devotion or during a family devotion time or at bedtime.
Even younger children can do this if you write the five things for them, and at first, it may be the same things everyday – i.e. mom, dad, siblings, toys, food. But they are taking time to consider what they are thankful for, and eventually they will think of other things to be thankful for (perhaps with our guidance) and even write more than five blessings.
5. Recall answered prayer.
Write down the things you are praying for a in a notebook, and when the prayer is answered, write the date and answer to prayer. Give thanks in prayer for these answered prayers on a regular basis.
An alternate fun way to do this is with a prayer box and thanksgiving box: write prayer requests on index cards or printed cards and put them in the box. At each meal or at family devotions, pray for the cards in the box. When a prayer is answered, write the date and answer to prayer, and put this card into a thanksgiving prayer box. Pull out one or more thanksgiving cards each day to give thanks in prayer along with the requests.
At Thanksgiving (and on a regular basis), go through all the cards in the thanksgiving box to see how God has answered prayer this year.
6. Take time to thank others.
Have your children make cards for grandparents and others who have given them a present at a birthday or holiday. Write cards of thanks often to those who have done something to bless you. Cards are a good way onhow to teach children gratitude.
For example, choose one person a week to send a thank you note to and have the kids help write the cards or make their own. This could be for pastors, elders, teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc.
Receiving a note of thanks can really encourage another person who pours out their time, money or care for us and give them a boost to keep going.
7. Teach our children contentment.
Don’t give them everything they want, and say “no” sometimes. It is not realistic to go through life getting everything we want, and we get bored and may be unthankful when we do get everything we want, not appreciating our blessings so readily as if we have gone without. We can teach gratitude to our children by not spoiling them but encouraging them to be thankful for what they do have.
8. Memorize Scripture with our children.
Start by memorizing verses on thankfulness and giving praise to God such as 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Memorize verses on God’s character. As we put the truth of God’s Word into ours and our children’s hearts, we will be able to have an eternal perspective – the ability to look at things beyond our temporary physical circumstances – and thus cultivate thankful hearts.
9. Pray Scripture.
Use verses or passages to pray through. So often we find our words are lacking, if we can pray through the Psalms or other passages to use God’s words to thank and praise Him, we can learn better words to pray with and make it a habit to pray with praise and thanksgiving.
10. Write down Scripture and quotes that remind us to be thankful.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and Philippians 4:6,7 are a great place to start. We can write these in our thankfulness journals or on notecards to post around the house, like on a bathroom mirror or kitchen cupboard door. Or make a screen swipe of different verses and quotes for your phone screen. The point is to continually remind ourselves to give thanks so it becomes a habit!
Thankfulness is a characteristic of a believer in Jesus Christ, so it is necessary to cultivate grateful hearts in ourselves and in our children. With a little forethought, such as the ideas above, we can make giving thanks into a habit – and celebrate thanksgiving every day!
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Justina of Jus’ Classical is a musician, song writer, video producer, blogger, and course creator as well as a busy homeschooling mom of three blessings, ages 14, 12, and 10. She writes articles to encourage other homeschool moms and families, especially in focusing on Christ, at jusclassical.com. You can also find her art and music videos and memory songs on YouTube and her courses on Teachable. Follow Justina and Jus’ Classical on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram too!
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