This begins with a tale of two kids. Let’s call one kid Tom and the other Joe. Tom belongs to a Boy Scout troop that meets once a week, and he loves being a part of the troop. Every week he is fully engaged in the project or activity, raises his hand to ask questions, and beams with pride over even his smallest accomplishments. At the end of every meeting, as Tom is saying goodbye to his troop leader, he says, “Thank you so much! I had so much fun, and I learned something new. Can’t wait until next week.” Tom’s gratitude is palpable, and it validates all the hours that the leaders pour into the meetings.
Then there’s Joe. For the most part, Joe has a pretty good life. He’s got two parents who love him and love each other, and he has a fairly good relationship with his siblings. Joe’s parents work hard to give him as much as they can. He takes music lessons, has lots of toys, and gets to take annual family vacations. But for Joe, it always seems like life never gives him enough. When a group of friends invite him to a movie, he argues about which movie to see. If someone offers him a cookie, he wants to know why he can’t have two. If his parents take him to an amusement park, he pouts when they won’t buy him a souvenir.
Now let us ask you, the reader — which boy would you want living in your house?
Being thankful is really an art in the sense that gratitude brings beauty, and it adds significance to people and circumstances. A grateful heart is at peace. It values people over things and finds joy in nearly every situation.
On the flip side, an ungrateful heart feels self-entitled and is perpetually disappointed.
Some kids are born with an extra helping of appreciation, and others have to work at it, but the bottom line is this: as parents, we need to intentionally cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our kids.
It Starts with Us
You’ve probably heard the saying that more is caught than taught. Most people would probably say that they do a fairly good job of modeling gratitude by regularly saying please and thank you. And they would probably be right.
But just in case you need a little reminder, be sure to thank everyone! Thank the drive-thru people, the cashier, the people who hold doors open for you, and the coach of your child’s baseball team every time there’s a practice.
Smile at every one of their faces and look into every pair of eyes! Then turn to your kids, and have them thank those people too. Kids learn what they live, and in no time flat, you’ll have little gratitude machines.
But let’s take it even a step further. When it comes to appreciation, let’s go after excellence! Instead of simply thanking your waitress, say something specific about her service that you especially appreciated.
Occasionally, out of the blue, have the kids make thank you cards and maybe even small homemade gifts. Put them all in a cute basket and include a $10 gift card to Starbucks, and give it to your pastor as a token of gratitude for all he does for the church, your family and the community. Every Friday, park your car instead of waiting in the pick up line at your child’s school. Go in and ask what you can do to help them clean up for the week, and let them know that you appreciate the work they’re doing for your child.
And how about showing our kids that same level of gratitude. Aren’t we so grateful that these young people are in our lives? When they do something special, are we pouring out appreciation? Let’s lavish them in genuine gratitude for who they are and what they do. Then they’ll know firsthand how good it feels to be appreciated.
The Greater Role of Gratefulness
Ultimately, gratitude is the antithesis of selfishness. When we teach our children to value and appreciate people, we teach them empathy, compassion and a general regard for humanity. We remind them that they are part of a community, and they have responsibility in that community.
Lessons of appreciation help our kids become aware of other people’s time and money and effort, and they teach our kids to focus on what they have and not what they lack, which ultimately helps fight against entitlement. When kids are grateful for every breath they take, they are not likely to also feel like the world owes them something.
About 11 years ago (Jenni speaking), I took my preschool daughter to a mommy and me class, and I overheard a conversation between a mom and a little girl that I’ll never forget. I could tell by their clothing and accessories and the car they drove that this family was wealthy. As they were working together on a craft project, the mom was saying, “You are so lucky to get to go to a class like this! You have lots of friends and a wonderful teacher here to help you. You get to make pretty projects and play with toys. You are so lucky.”
I was deeply impressed by this mom’s deliberate attempt to cultivate a heart of gratitude in her young daughter. And I realized then that so much of this training happens in conversation with our kids, as we draw their attention to the many blessings in their lives.
If you’re looking for a fun way to raise the bar of appreciation in your home, consider starting a Family Book. Just get a Composition Journal and leave it somewhere central. As things happen (holidays, vacations, visitors, parties, etc.) encourage family members to write down things that they’re grateful for while they’re actually feeling thankful. They can also write down fun memories and funny things that family members said. Then, you could pull out the book once in a while and read through it together. It will be a reminder of all that you have to be grateful for, and when it’s full, you’ll have a treasured family keepsake.