When I was a young mom of two sons, I had the privilege to hear an older wise couple speak, who had homeschooled their four sons all the way through, and did a great job of it. The key point I took away from their talk was they taught their boys how to serve which helps teach gratitude.
On the mantle above their fireplace they even had a sign as a reminder which read: Serving Self or Serving Jesus? Knowing two of their sons personally, I could see how that training was evident in their daily lives. One of them runs a christian camp and the other is a youth pastor.
Both of them have outgoing, magnetic personalities – in part because they make others feel cared for. I have witnessed both of them be the first to jump in to help; with big smiles on their faces and joyful attitudes. I admired them, and now that I had this key “nugget” of training from their parents, I was determined to do the same!
Ironically, I now also have four sons! My oldest is sixteen and my youngest is three. What’s interesting to me is that children are not naturally thankful little people!
In general, children (due to our sinful nature) want to be first, have the biggest and best and definitely don’t want to share, right? Left unchecked, this leads to selfish adults who expect too much from others and have poor, ungrateful attitudes.
So it is our responsibility to teach them gratitude.
One of the best ways I’ve found to teach gratitude to our children is through experiential learning. That is, allowing your child to experience serving others using their time, talents and resources to give to the needs of others. This will help them to learn compassion and develop an awareness and understanding that goes beyond themselves. They can first learn to serve within your family and then alongside you in your community.
In our house, we expect our children to participate in helping the family in several ways. Cleaning the kitchen after dinner, putting away their own clean clothes, raking leaves and sweeping the floors are some examples. We don’t pay our children to help with these things, as we teach them this is what we do to help each other. We show them how to do a job first, and then work with them until they are able to do the task by themselves.
Every family member participates in chore time, so the kids see we are all working together for the good of the family. We try to make it a joyful experience by putting on some upbeat music, or creating a game to see who can finish first (with the most effort). A fun activity to instill gratitude.
In our community, we have our children . . .
- Deliver flowers to our neighbors on Mother’s Day
- Sing Christmas carols with their friends at nursing homes
- Shop for items to put in Operation Christmas Child boxes
- Write thank you notes
- Choose missions to give to
- Assist at AWANA
- Collect canned goods for our local Food Pantry
- For years we sponsored two children in Africa who they write letters to and pray for.
Through these experiences I have seen my children develop attitudes of gratitude and a better sense of the world around them. Specific examples are:
- My oldest son showed compassion for a group of orphans he heard about and on his own decided to raise funds to give them.
- Each year my oldest three sons want to buy each other gifts with their own money on their birthdays.
- My son who is 10 years old noticed I was tired one evening and all on his own came up to me and said, “mom, let me do the dishes for you. You can rest.”
My husband and I are trying our best with God’s help to model and teach our children to be grateful, but we realize practice is needed to create a habit of thankfulness. So – it’s an ongoing process of learning to see a need and meeting it.
When service becomes a lifestyle, I truly believe we are able to love better and have hearts that are truly thankful. It can be a challenge to teach gratitude but with prayer and your dedication to it, you will be blessed to see the evidence of gratitude in their lives.
For more practical ideas to help your child develop an attitude of gratitude, see Kirsten’s free handout titled, “25 Ideas for Serving Others as a Family.”
Kirsten McTernan is the wife of an Engineering Professor, homeschool mom of 4 boys, author, and homeschool conference speaker. She believes there is no situation too difficult for the Lord, and that moms and dads can make a lasting difference. Her book, Homeschooling: You CAN Do It! hit the #1 New Release category on Amazon and was featured on NBC, CBS and ABC. You can find it here. You can reach her on Instagram @kirstenmcternan or www.kirstenmcternan.com.
NOTE: Not all views from guest bloggers are the views of Kerry Beck or How to Homeschool My Child.