12 Tips for Teaching Thankfulness
By Michelle LaRowe Conover
This week many families are renewing annual traditions of
teaching their children to be thankful. Some make lists of the things they’re
thankful for to be read at the Thanksgiving meal; others may volunteer to serve
dinner at a local shelter to those who don’t have a kitchen table of their own;
still others may invite a friend or neighbor in need to share the day with
While these annual traditions are excellent and practical
ways of cultivating gratitude in our children, to truly teach the biblical
principle of thankfulness takes more than an annual tradition or crash course
Biblical thankfulness isn’t limited to a season. It isn’t
even based on what we have or what we don’t have. True thankfulness is giving
thanks to God always and for everything (Ephesians 5:20; Psalm 34:1).
As you celebrate Thanksgiving with your children this year,
make a commitment to foster thankful hearts year-round. Just like correctly
carving a turkey, being thankful doesn’t come naturally. Parents have to teach
their children how to be thankful and introduce practical ways that children
can express their thanks.
1. Be a role model.
Provide opportunities for your children to hear you thank
God in the good times and in the bad. There is no better way to teach your
children to be thankful than by allowing them to see you being thankful. If
you’re uncertain how to be thankful in the bad times, look to the life of the
apostle Paul who teaches us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is
God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).
2. Lessen the material load.
Less really can be more. When we are so focused on what we
want and even on what we need, it’s hard to be thankful for what we already
have and to keep our focus on God. “Set your minds on things above, not on
earthly things” (Colossians 3:2).
3. Provide perspective.
Expose your children to the reality of true poverty and
suffering. During the first years, children truly believe that the world revolves
around them, their wants and their needs. If we don’t introduce our children to
the reality of those less fortunate, they won’t grow into grateful adults who
have a burning desire to help alleviate the suffering of others.
4. Count your blessings.
“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever” (Psalm 106:1). Consciously take note of the things
God has done and is doing in your life and give thanks. Share your observations
with your children. Encourage your children to share the ways God has blessed
5. Differentiate between wants and needs.
We truly need very few things in life. These include food,
shelter, clothing and companionship. We often lose sight of the difference
between our wants and our needs. When we do, it can open the door to
ungratefulness. Younger children can be taught the difference by identifying
some purchases as things we have to have and others as things that are nice to
6. Distinguish privileges from rights.
Having a cell phone or taking music lessons is a privilege,
a special benefit enjoyed by our children above and beyond their basic rights
(the right to eat, the right to sleep). Parents are responsible to provide for
rights. Providing an opportunity for our children to earn and keep their
privileges, perhaps by doing chores, can foster a deeper appreciation of the
extra blessings they enjoy and the value of money.
7. Encourage ownership and responsibility.
When children feel like something truly belongs to them,
they are more likely to appreciate it. When they purchase something or care for
it on their own, they are better able to understand the concept of earning,
spending and responsibility. Together, these increase their level of
appreciation for time and money because they personally become connected to
8. Develop the art of appreciation.
Coaching your children to express gratefulness with words
and actions can help them learn practical ways to show appreciation. Saying
thank you or sending a handmade thank-you note to acknowledge a kind word or
deed is a practical way children can be taught to show appreciation.
9. Recognize God’s involvement in your family’s life.
Once we let God into our lives, He is with us always
(Revelation 3:20). Acknowledge and thank God for the hand He has in your
family’s life and express to your children that you trust God to meet your
10. Instill the concept of servant leadership.
Servant leadership is simply serving others and putting the
needs of others above your own (John 13). In today’s world where people are
encouraged to fight their way to the top and disregard the needs of others to
get there, teaching children to meet the needs of others can help them
appreciate what they have and what they are able to contribute.
11. Teach personal appreciation.
True gratitude focuses on the gift giver, rather than the
gift. Sometimes the little gifts we get in life require a big sacrifice from
the giver. “Wasn’t that great that Grandma thought of you on your birthday? She
doesn’t have much, but she chose to share what she has with you.” Encourage
your children to appreciate the gesture behind the gift.
12. Make time to give thanks.
Set aside time each day to give God thanks. While children
can be encouraged to give thanks throughout the day, having a set time or two
of thanksgiving will foster a habit that your children will carry over into
Teaching our children the biblical principle of thankfulness
and practical ways to express it year-round will help them grow into adults who
appreciate who God is and who He created them to be. It will also help them
stay focused on what they have when Satan tries to shift their focus to things
God wants to protect them from (Genesis 3:1-7). Remember, “Godliness with
contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).
MICHELLE LaROWE CONOVER is the author of Working Mom’s 411:
How to Manage Kids, Career and Home and attends Faith Assembly of God in
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