A version of this article appeared originally in Tender Tidings Fall 2012.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a great time to share with our children the importance of gratitude.
So, how do we pass on an attitude of gratitude to our children? We can begin by praying for a grateful spirit ourselves, so that we can be better witnesses to our children. We can remind ourselves that gratitude is always coupled with the virtue of humility: We recognize that we need the assistance of God and others for our physical sustenance and emotional well-being. Nobody is an island of independence no matter how much they might want to believe it. We humans were created for interdependence.
When parents embrace a lifestyle of contentment and generosity, our children will learn intuitively the meaning of gratitude. As a family, we can live out our commitment to growing in gratitude in tangible ways. We can choose to be content with what we already have, rather than falling into the trap of always looking to the next thing we want to possess or accumulate. How much bigger can televisions get, right? We don’t need things to be happy. Ultimately, only God himself can satisfy our longings and desires.
Perhaps these weeks before Thanksgiving can be devoted to simplicity in our home: no more new stuff. We can use the money we save to bless those in need. Perhaps on Thanksgiving Day (or the day after) we can take new toys or a needed item to a local shelter, hospital, or other charity that’s devoted to reducing the suffering of the sick and needy.
And, of course, God has blessed us with more than material things. He has blessed us with knowledge, skills, and time. We demonstrate our gratitude for these gifts by using them to bless and aid others, which glorifies God. We use our knowledge, skills, and time to nourish our children — body, mind, and spirit — in whatever circumstances the day presents, with an attitude and heart of love and mercy. We do the same for those outside our family. When we have small children it’s hard to commit gobs of time to others, but God will let you know what needs to be done and whether you’re the one to do it. While you’re watching a movie with your family, knit a sweater for the babe of a young mother. Do a load of laundry for the same mother while you do your own laundry. Share your parenting wisdom with other parents at a play date. Share with your children what you are doing and why, and invite them to participate in the work.
The bottom line is that by watching us and working alongside us, our children will begin to reflect an attitude of gratitude, too. They will become increasingly conscious of the gifts they already have and they will eventually see that sitting still in that consciousness — resisting the modern tendency to seek ever more, bigger, better — is a gift in itself that they give back to God.
Here are few books to get a conversation going with your kids about gratitude.
Family Story Hour
I’m Thankful Each Day by P.K. Hallinan (toddlers to age 6)
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts (preschool to age 8)
My Book of Thanks by B.G. Hennessey (ages 5 to 9)
Mary Magdalene: A Woman Who Showed Her Gratitude by Marlee Alex (preschool to age 8)