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December 1, 2022

Raising Thankful Children

The holiday season is a time for lots of family and celebrations. It can feel like the modern world emphasizes the excesses of festivities and gifts that often come with those celebrations. In a season where material things are advertised at every turn, how do you provide a balance between helping your children be thankful for what they have, and providing them with that ‘Christmas morning magic’ of a pile of presents? It’s a tough balancing act!

Practice Being Thankful Year-round

I imagine many of us try to keep that sentiment of thankfulness at the forefront of our minds and would prefer our kids do as well. However, do we find that, at times, our kids don’t seem so thankful? They have less than a strong sense of gratitude. Ironically, the more you do for your kids, the less thankful they may seem.

An All-Too-Common Problem…

It’s sort of a trap. We love our kids so much and want them to be happy and content. At the same time, we live in the most prosperous and affluent country in the history of the world, so we have ample opportunity to give our kids lots of stuff.

So what transpires? As we give them more, we find that they tend to expect more. There comes a sense of entitlement and more expectation as opposed to a gracious and genuine “thank you!!”

Yes, it’s true, and clearly evidenced in our daily lives. The more someone gets, often the less gracious they become. Moreover, the lower the expectations to be able to obtain items (don’t have to work for it), the higher a child’s sense of entitlement.

Managing Entitlement

People who feel entitled and come to expect things without a strong sense of gratitude are typically unhappy people. In that respect, gratitude is a barometer for happiness. The more gratitude a person feels in life, the happier they are going to be. It’s hard to be happy when you ‘expect’ more, and aren’t happy with what you already have.

How Do We Help Them Practice Being Thankful?

Here are some ideas:

1. Give with a little more restraint.

In that respect, we don’t give a child everything for which they ask. Remember the old adage: “give a child everything they need, but very little of what they want.” (who said that?)

2. Have kids work for what they want.

This can be through an allowance, and they can save their money. It's worth considering that there are two different sets of chores in any home; those chores that are done because we all live together and have to pitch in to run the household, such as cleaning one’s room, emptying the garbage, running the sweeper… and those chores that may be considered ‘above and beyond’ for which an allowance will be considered: such as raking leaves, pulling weeds, shoveling snow, washing the car, cleaning windows… for younger kids, the list of chores for which an allowance will be allotted may be a bit longer, but as a child gets older, that list will get smaller so it will be harder to earn an allowance. Developing a work ethic is an important life skill.

3. Show them what it’s like for those less fortunate.

Local churches have myriad opportunities for this type of service; we can sign up our kids (and we go along) to volunteer at a shelter (with direct parent oversight), at the Goodwill, or go on a mission’s trip. This offers an opportunity to give back, see how good they have it, and see firsthand how others are living. Donating toys/ items that the child has grown out of can be a powerful motivator to keep an uncluttered household, and it helps to cement the idea of helping the less fortunate.

4. Practice thankfulness.

We make sure that, weekly, they write down all the things for which they are grateful. Also, it is good to get them in the habit of writing well-thought-out and gracious thank you cards for any gift they receive. This can start at a very early age, even if they are not yet able to write the cards themselves.

5. Seek out gratitude-building church messages.

Get your kiddo to church, synagogue, or temple (wherever you worship). at least once if not twice a week. Most churches have a kid’s program that also meets Wednesday evenings). If a church is doing its job, the preacher(s) are teaching about gratitude, thankfulness, self-sacrifice, the 10th Commandment (okay, I’ll give you a hint – that one about not-coveting and, rather, being happy with what God's given you), love, patience, humility, being meek, and caring for others. Can you think of better messages for our children?

It’s Not Too Late to Teach Your Kids About Being Thankful!

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. It’s too late. Your child is already an over-indulged tyrant who is running the household. Well, even in that seemingly dire situation, it’s not too late. You may need to take it a bit slower, but you can do it!! Follow the pointers above and, slowly but surely, things will begin to change. Your child will not be happy as you begin this process, they will fuss and try to wear you down. If you need help and guidance along the way, and maybe some moral support, that’s what I’m here for (and your local church with help from the Children’s Pastor). If you want to make a change in the direction of enhancing gratitude, you have to start sometime. How about today?

Here is wishing you and yours a relaxing and delightful Holiday Season with your family and friends, and with your ever-increasingly grateful children. For more tips on surviving the challenges that can come up during this time of year, check out my post: Managing the Holiday Season.

😊 God bless you.

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