Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Raising Thankful Children

1 Chronicles 16:34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Being right smack in the middle of the holiday season, our minds are usually more prone to think about the things for which we are thankful for: health, family, shelter, friends, blessings — all of these things seem to become more important during this time of year.

I usually find myself trying to instill this thankfulness in my kids during this time of year, especially when it comes to making sure that they show extreme gratitude and appreciation for every gift they receive at Christmas, even if it is a pair of orange socks.

But how though, do we as parents instill in them an attitude of gratitude that they can carry in thier hearts year round? How do we help them realize how much they truly have to be thankful for?

Today I found myself having a conversation with my ten year old son that I have had so many times, I should just write it down, print it out, and hand to him each morning when it comes up. My son is an A-B student, a good athlete, has lots of friends, and is a well-rounded, happy little boy. But he hates getting up and going to school. Maybe if school started at 9:15am, instead of 7:15am, it might be a different story. But several days a week, he drags out of bed, whines about how tired he is, and says he hates school.

As a result, several days a week, I find myself coercing him into his clothes, trying to perk him up with breakfast, and reminding him that there are kids in this world who would give anything to be able to go to school. Kind of like when our own mothers used to tell us to eat our broccoli because there are other kids in the world who are starving. Im not sure if that tactic really works!

But I would probably be correct in saying that most modern parents have said at one time or another to our kids, that they need to be more grateful. In fact, I even have to remind myself at times to be more grateful and content. It is easy to lack an attitude of thankfulness, and so it is unfair to expect our kids to just inherently have an abundance of gratitude in their own hearts.

So what can we, as parents, do to help foster an attitude of gratitude in our childrens hearts, especially in this season of the year, when gifts and presents, Santa and shopping seem to be the heartbeat of the Christmas season?

I think it starts with our own commitment to be grateful and content. I find myself at times, whining as a result of my own lack of contentment, like I wish I had a new kitchen counter, some new couches, or some new clothes. But then God pricks my heart, to remind me that at least I have a kitchen, and food to cook; at least I have a warm house to sit in, with comfortable couches, even if not perfect; and how blessed I am to have clothes to keep me warm.

I believe that instilling that attitude of gratefulness in their hearts, has to begin with our own attitudes. Including watching what we say, how much we whine about our wants, and how thankful we are for even the smallest things.

There are some other things we can do as well, especially around this time of year, to help our children build a thankful attitude.

Here are a few tips for fostering an attitude of gratitude in our children, which will help them grow into thankful, and grateful adults:

1) Give love, not just rewards.

When my daughter turned 13 this year, I gave her a gift of time. You see, I have learned over the years that her love language is time - I think she inherited that from me. Time spent together with people she loves, means much more to her than tangible gifts. So I printed out a little 'gift certificate' and wrapped it in a box, and told her that as soon as we could, we would have a mother-daughter day out, with lunch, and a little shopping, or whatever she wanted to do together. Her smile spoke volumes as she came over and wrapped her arms around my neck to say thank you.

Consider ways you can give the gift of love to your children, and help them see the importance of gifts that cannot be bought from the store.

2) Give your child some responsibility.

One thing that has always annoyed me, is when people do not take care of their possessions. My children know that if they leave their things laying around the house, or carelessly throw phones or IPODs in the car floor where they could easily be stepped on and broken, or haphazardly leave their expensive jackets or other items in classrooms or at other peoples homes, they are sure to hear a lecture about responsibility. It would be easier to just replace lost or broken items, or overlook irresponsibility, than teaching life lessons constantly, but doing so would be teaching our children that we live in a disposable world, and that we do not need to be responsible.

Instilling responsibility in our children can start even when they are little. For example, my sons "job" this month is to keep the Christmas tree watered. He is the only one little enough to fit under the tree to check the water level in the tree stand, so it works out perfectly! I have told him that if he doesnt be responsible with his job, that the tree will soon die, needles will be all over the floor, branches will droop, and our tree will die before Christmas. Just knowing that what he is doing really matters, helps encourage him to keep it going. Each of my children have their own areas of responsibility (not that they always act responsibly of course!), but at least we are making efforts to help them learn that character trait.

Think of some "jobs" that you can give your children, and then expect them to be responsible about it. When they are not responsible, help them understand that there will loving consequences, to help them learn this important life lesson.

3) Lend a helping hand.

This time of year is packed with opportunities for community service - from helping your neighbor with a meal, to visiting nursing homes and prisons, to giving away used coats and clothing items to those in need.

Seek out some ways that you and your family can help others during this time of year, and possibly consider a plan for carrying it out into the new year. There are people in need all year round, and as our children see how other people are hurting, it helps them to better appreciate and be thankful for the abundance in their own lives.

4) Be a positive role model.
Recently I was riding as a passenger in my car while my fifteen year old daughter was driving. I noticed she was going too fast on one section of a road, and told her to slow down. She did slow down, but said "Mom, you always go this fast". Ouch. It was a great reminder that children will imitate their parents, whether they are three years old or fifteen years old. This imitation can also happen with attitudes of thankfulness, making it so important to let our children see us exhibiting a thankful attitude in our own life.

Showing traits of gratitude, contentment, appreciation for our blessings, and thankfulness to the One who gave us everything we have speaks volumes to the hearts of our children. They need to hear us say thank you when people do something for us, and be kind to the people we interact with on a daily basis. They need to see us praying on a regular basis and spending time in Gods Word; they need to see us helping others; and they need to see us using common sense and restraint when it comes to buying things we think we want, but do not really need. They need to hear us talk about being grateful for what we have, and thanking God for all things, good or bad.

They need to see us thank them, when they behave well, when they do something kind for someone, when they make good grades, whey they try their best, and simply because they are the most precious gifts that God has given us.

Thankfulness is not merely a Thanksgiving and Christmas activity. It is a mindset that we should, and can, carry around all year, if we make it a priority in our own hearts.

If thankful attitudes are practiced each day of our lives, our children will learn that those attitudes should be a way of life, not just a season of the year. What bigger blessing could we ever receive, than to know that our children have grateful attitudes and a love for themselves, their God, and other people.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracie,
Always need these kind of reminders. So much truth behind our children do what we do. I still find myself today saying or doing what I did when I was growing up.

One to Ponder: That I find myself saying when I feel like giving in is I say to myself..."Do not handicap your children by making their life easy."

Raising Thankful children....thanks Tracie for the encouragement...and your openness.