Adults quickly grasp the idea of counting their blessings, but without the benefit of perspective that comes with many life experiences, kids often take blessings for granted. But we want children to understand blessings and gratitude – especially at Thanksgiving!
As one mother of five put it, “I can get my kids to say thank you for lots of things. I’m not sure they really feel thanks. They can look overjoyed for a present on a birthday or Christmas morning, but it’s directed at the object, not the giver, and truthfully, I don’t see them get many gifts that keep them grateful for more than a couple days. And yet, I believe genuine thankfulness is an important part of spirituality.”
The Bible does say, “In everything, give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).” We struggle as grownups thanking God sufficiently; how can we get our kids to do it?
You can help our kids begin the journey to developing genuine thanks – and it doesn’t take a lot of lecturing and prodding! You can make Thanksgiving extra special this year, just by starting the right dinner table conversations in the week leading up to the Big Meal. Kids have very diverse schedules between school, sports, lessons, homework, etc. But generally speaking, kids still eat dinner at the same time and with at least one parent.
When dinnertime rolls around, turn off the TV and turn on the fun”¦first using our seven specific categories in which kids can feel thanks. Developing gratitude is fun if you keep in mind one important fact: the secret lies in the details! Take one category a night and make a game of breaking it down into specifics.
The more specifics you can dream up with them, the more likely it is that your kids will feel gratitude. When Thanksgiving finally arrives, it’s more likely you will have genuinely grateful hearts seated around your table.
Night #1 Thanks for family: mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.
Since these people are the ones that children tend to take most for granted, it is a good stating place. But don’t just say, “Be thankful for Mom!” Start digging for specifics with a question, like: “What are some of the things Mom does for you?
Often kids give general answers, such as “Mom cooks my food.” They can develop bigger attitudes of gratitude by asking, “What does Mom cook that’s your favorite?” When they say, “Mom makes the best macaroni and cheese,” their hearts will light up more.
If kids like the way Mom cleans the house, ask, “What do you like best? Clean sheets? Clean clothes? The vacuum lines in all the carpets after she vacuums?” Mention enough specifics, and kids will catch on and think of some of their own. Praise the really creative ones and the very specific ones. Do the same with fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents.
Night #2 Thanks for shelter.
Children love their homes, and many who have modest homes consider them a palace. By asking what they love most about their homes you can lead them to a variety of fun answers. Warmth is a priority when it’s cold outside. While many homes do not have a fireplace, those who do will probably be thankful for it. Other things include shelter from rain, their bed with warm blankets to sleep under, light from electricity, and in the summer, screens to let the air in and to keep the bugs out.
Discuss each room in your house and what kids like most about it. It can be anything from the softness of the toilet roll in the bathroom to the candle on the dining room table. The details will stick, and they may think of the gratitude they discussed whenever they see that object for a while!
Night #3 Thanks for Food.
Obviously you will hear a lot about pizza, hoagies and McDonalds, but bringing up the details in a normal night’s food can encourage gratitude. Hold up a carrot and say, “Look how shiny it is. How did God get carrots to be so orange! He is a very special artist.” Swirl your fork in mashed potatoes and note how creamy they look. Notice the perfectly straight and orderly rows of seeds in a cucumber. Ask kids what smells best on their plate. Ask them what’s best about their favorite dish and note God’s creative hand in it with questions like, “How did God get pizza cheese so chewy?”
Night #4 Thanks for our country.
Most children know the Star Spangled Banner and will know that we are the land of the free and home of the brave. But in many cases the words are meaningless unless they are explained in detail. The older children may be helpful in making the younger ones understand about freedom, because they have had some knowledge of countries where people were not free to worship, seek education, and earn a living as they please. Again, being specific about what freedom does for us will help kids feel thankful. Knowing your children’s’ ambitions, you can say, “˜If you lived in a communist country, you would not be free to choose that career when you grow up. You’d have to do what the government told you to.” And even more importantly, tell them, “Parents who go to church in certain countries can go to jail for that. Their kids can be given away. I’m so glad we’re free to worship our loving God in America!” Freedoms kids might relate to might include writing whatever poems we want, buying whatever we want in the store, saying whatever we believe without fear of breaking a law, freedom to listen to whatever music we like and watch movies that people freely created.
Night #5 Thanks for our bodies.
Kids are often besieged with negative information about their bodies. In school kids get teased for being too thin, too heavy, too short, or too tall, and if they wear something too old, too tight or too colorful, it can bring on the comments as well! Developing thanks can put a more positive spin on things when kids look at the details. Have them examine their fingers, then try to eat four bites of dinner with their fingers balled into fists. Ask why God gave them thumbs. Have them shut their eyes and hold their noses and try to guess which food item from your plate you’re holding in front of them. Point out how you can’t taste gravy when you’re holding your nose. Show your awe in how God designed smells and noses and freckles on noses.
Challenge #6 Thanks for nature.
God’s artistry and his own love of detail can be seen in nature. Kids almost know instinctively to appreciate the sky, clouds, seashore, fields and mountains. It gets really fun when gratitude is encouraged for more specific things like “how our kitty cat’s tail curls and uncurls when she walks” or “the stripes on a zebra” or “fish lips and how they blow when our goldfish swims along.” Bring in a pine cone or a fall flower from outside and ask kids to notice as many cool details about it as possible. Thank God for each detail.
Challenge #7 Thanks for God and Jesus.
We teach kids to thank God and Jesus, but we also need to remind them to be thankful for our Heavenly Father and his Loving Son. We may find that kids are more challenged over feeling grateful for the Creator than for his creation! That’s because they can’t see or hear God. The details of God can make children far more thankful. Mention attributes such that God never sleeps. Remind them of Luke 12:7 which says “the very hairs on your head are numbered,” and tell them God knows every littlest thing about them. Remind them that Jesus came and arose from the dead so that we can go to heaven with him. Ask them how long they think eternity is or how to understand eternity. Remind them that Jesus promised to come back to earth someday and that we can look forward to watching for Him.
In all of this, you can increase gratitude by reminding kids that their thankfulness isn’t just a general feeling that drifts off into space. It is directed at God, who enjoys when we are grateful. Kids may not think they are capable of making God smile. But he didn’t send his son to die for people capable only of making him frown. God enjoys us. He wants to be a big part of our lives, our hearts, our thinking, and He wants to be noticed. When we thank him, he enjoys it similarly to how we do. Think of how you would feel if your kids thanked you for the way you fold wash, the kindness in your voice, the smell of your hair, your taste in candle scents, the stories your read at bedtime, the way you tie shoes. You would have a new lease on life! Teach your kids to offer up a blast of gratitude for the little things each time they think of one.
Galatians 6:7 says, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Make your kids grateful to God this Thanksgiving by pointing out all the details of his wonderful creation, and it will come back to you in blessings and more things to be thankful for.
In case you missed it, please be sure to read up on our first “Mom Challenge” where we offered 7 mini challenges to strengthen your children’s relationship with God. Have an idea for another “Mom Challenge” topic? We’re all ears! Please leave us a quick comment with an idea (or just a quick hello so we know there are parents out there actually reading these long posts- :))