Instilling Gratitude in Kids

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Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Raising Boys and Girls!! Today, in honor of Thanksgiving, we wanted to share an excerpt on gratitude, from one of our books, Modern Parents, Vintage Values, written by Melissa & Sissy.

What It Looks Like

In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus calls a child up to him from the crowd.  He calls and the child comes.  In other words, the child responds.  But, first, he must have seen and heard Jesus.  

Children do this quite naturally.  They see.  Your daughter is filled with wonder at the caterpillar crawling across the ground.  They hear.  Your son is thrilled to hear Rudolph come on the radio.  They feel.  The first time your son heard the story of the cross, he was sad for Jesus, and couldn’t believe Jesus would actually do all of that for him.  They see, they hear, they feel, and they respond.

Their responses may not take the form of words.  That’s where we can help them learn to verbally communicate gratitude.  But they express it through their eyes and squeals of excitement.  They say it through their mouths that form little O’s and smiles.  We can learn a lot from children, in the ways they see, in the ways they respond, and in their inherent sense of gratitude.

Obstacles to Gratitude

There are days, however, when your son is not quite so grateful.  Instead, he is shrieking in the checkout line at Kroger because he wants a candy bar more than he’s ever wanted anything in his whole life.  Your daughter is not so grateful when her grandmother gives her the “wrong” doll for her birthday.  Your son stomps around the house yelling you “never” let him stay up late and “always” make him clean up his room.  Their responsiveness can be both a blessing and a curse…for them and for us.

The most typical obstacles to gratitude in children are the sense of entitlement we talked about earlier in the book, as well as other emotions that take over their little bodies and hearts—competitiveness, jealousy, impatience, selfishness.  They can be just as overcome by these feelings as they are by the sweet gratitude we talked about earlier.  They are responsive and they are impulsive.  They are just as likely to feel surges of joy as they are swings of terrific anger.  So, what do we do?  How do we encourage their responsiveness in positive moments and discourage their impulsiveness in the negative?

A Few Tips To Instill Gratitude

  • When you see your child stop and look or listen, ask her what she’s noticed.  Have her describe it to you and how it makes her feel.  You can spontaneously thank God with her for whatever it is.
  • Tell your child how much you love his eyes and ears…how he sees things that you sometimes don’t as an adult.  This will help encourage and validate that sense of wonder.
  • Take the time to listen when he notices.  Don’t hurry him along or try to shift the conversation, just because it’s not convenient.
  • Thank God for the food before you eat meals.
  • Randomly pray in the car on the way to school or in the kitchen, etc. to tell God your gratitude.  This will help them learn that gratitude is not only what happens at meal or bedtime.
  • Play gratitude games.  For example, everyone at dinner can go around and list several things they’re thankful for.  You can give a “silver lining” award to the child who sees the good, even in hard circumstances.  Keep gratitude calendars as a family.  Play gratitude charades.
  • Model gratitude.  If you find yourself making more critical comments than you do grateful, you may want to shift gears yourself.  Tell your children things you’re thankful for in your own life.  Let them hear you express appreciation about and to others.
  • Tell your kids how much you appreciate them.  Thank them when they do things.  Tell them how much you appreciate certain traits and characteristics that you see inside of them.
  • Stop every once in a while.  Pull over in a pretty field.  Walk outside and look at the stars.  Take the time for gratitude.
  • Practice going without certain things.  For a week, make your bread, rather than buy it.  Walk somewhere close by, rather than driving.  Little sacrifices can help your children learn to appreciate what they do have.
  • Write thank-you notes.  Write thank-you notes to your children when they give you gifts and insist that they write notes for gifts they receive.  They’ll moan and grumble, but they’ll also learn a powerful lesson in acting out our gratitude.  My (Sissy’s) grandmother always told me that children who don’t write thank-you notes don’t receive gifts.  I still write thank-you notes to this day!
  • And stay connected to us via our blog for more tips on instilling vintage values in your modern kids, plus a whole lot more!