It’s not exactly news these days that kids and young people in general can be selfish, thankless and entitled.
I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly coming across headlines about how things like technology, bullying, materialism and competition are sucking away their souls.
I’d like to say that Christian homes are different. But I’ll be honest here…in my home at least, we struggle.
My daughter obsesses over when she can get her next LOL Surprise Doll while I have to peel my sons away from the latest video game craze. Stashes of Pokémon cards, endless Legos and an army of dolls take up a somewhat embarrassing amount of real estate in our house.
I don’t want throw them under the bus for being this way. I am responsible for raising them, after all.
My point is…raising kids who are thankful is a struggle in the world we live in. Just because you take your kids to church doesn’t mean they get an automatic pass from the cultural norms of the day.
Raising thankful kids takes deep prayer (these prayers). It takes intention. It takes discipline.
My kids aren’t grown yet so I can’t claim I’m the expert on this, but I have talked to a handful of parents older than me who did it well. Their kids have grown into adults who, while not perfect, are at the very least polite and generally appreciative for what they have. They’re decent and nice to be around.
More importantly, these people who were raised to be thankful actually practice the Christianity they claim they follow. They tend to be humble and content, whatever their circumstances. They have perspective about what is important.
And their families were all disciplined in practicing a few habits when they were kids. Want to know what they were?
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3 Habits of Families That Raise Thankful Kids
1. Parents Modeling Gratitude
Today’s kids have not invented selfishness. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of it has been modeled.
I’ve wrestled with contentment and gratitude constantly, my whole life. Yes, even as a Christian. And being a mom has put the spotlight on my own selfishness like nothing else.
And who do my kids see as their role model in life during their formative years? *Cough* *cough*
One of the more influential books on my way of thinking was One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
That book revealed to me the biblical truth that gratitude is a discipline. You might not feel thankful, but you act thankful anyway.
As Jesus himself modeled, when we are thankful during the times when it feels out of place—that’s when the miracles happen.
Jesus gave thanks when there was a shortage of food…and fed a crowd of thousands. He gave thanks during his last meal after which he knew he would be betrayed, tortured and killed…and he defeated death for all of us.
Another really great book for raising thankful kids is Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes by Kristen Welch.
In it, Kristen shares a very real glimpse into her real life of raising world changing kids who understand the difference between a want and a need, truly put others’ needs before their own, and grow up to make a difference — even when it’s not easy and completely counter-cultural. I’d definitely recommend!
You can find it on Amazon here: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World
Gratitude is tough to practice, but it’s just that: a practice. I try to do it daily in my prayer journaling as well as in my prayers the kids hear me say aloud. I value thank you cards on any and every occasion they’re appropriate. I try to be polite and thankful to servers, cashiers and others who serve me (even if they weren’t very helpful!).
If you’re in the habit of practicing gratitude, your kids are going to notice. Not only will they see that it’s a good habit, but they’ll see the results. Being thankful is proven to change your outlook and your attitude. (Plus, the thankful mom is less likely to lose her temper, which your kids will definitely appreciate!)
2. Expressing Gratitude as a Family
When you’re already practicing gratitude personally, it will be natural to teach your children to do the same.
If Pinterest is any indication, families go out of their way to intentionally practice more gratitude around the holidays—especially Thanksgiving, obviously. And while there are some fantastic traditions out there, I think most Equipping Godly Women readers would agree that gratitude should probably be expressed more than once a year.
Just as we practice Thanksgiving traditions, why not start some that we can follow every day? There are a few practices I’m trying to instill in my children:
- Mealtime sharing: Pretty recently we started saying one thing we’re thankful for each morning around the breakfast table (or if we’re in a hurry, in the car!). This takes about one minute. I’ve found it to be a pretty effective parenting tool because when attitudes start to slip later in the day, I can remind them that they started out being thankful!
- Good manners: The hard work of training our children in manners has been worth the effort. Most kids don’t say “thank you” naturally; it’s something they are taught, through modeling and repetition. And while thank you cards for gifts and services seems to be a dying expectation, I’ve tried to be more disciplined about training my children to write them—according to their ability, of course. (Toddler handprints are really cute!)
- Family prayer: When we pray together as a family, whether around our meals or at bedtime, gratitude is simply a built-in part of the ritual. I know that it can almost feel robotic at times, but personally, I think training your children in the habit is the thing that will point them in the right direction (Proverbs 22:6).
3. Serving Others
One of the best ways to change an attitude is to get a little perspective. Every person in our household battles with materialism. We have everything we need and a whole lot more and yet somehow we often feel discontent and greedy.
Giving and serving others in need is another discipline that helps kids be more thankful. It starts with teaching our children to give a portion of their allowance to God through tithing. But they have other opportunities to give as well. My kids have given from their own piggy banks and participated in fundraisers to organizations that serve around the world as well as our local community.
We also give our time. This can be a challenge with small kids, but I think a good philosophy is to “do something.” Simple things we’ve done has included:
- Picking up trash at the park
- Making cookies for a neighbor
- Visiting the elderly
- Making cards for firefighters, soldiers, the homeless or nursing home residents
When we’re living this way, we’re just naturally a lot less focused on ourselves.
These habits are all pretty simple, right? But when done consistently, consider their power. If every Christian family started focusing on one or two of them, I wonder what would happen!
I would love to hear from you—what are some of the habits you’ve noticed in families who raise thankful kids?
Guest post by Gina of GinaMPoirier.com.
Gina is a happily married mom of three, stress management coach and writer who helps overwhelmed, exhausted moms find peace and purpose in the everyday. Check out free resources for Christian moms at ginampoirier.com.