You don't have to be a mom for long to experience it.
It's the whiny voice in the grocery store.
It's the tantrum at their own birthday party.
It's the moan of boredom in a room full of toys.
Discontentment is at the heart of most of the bad attitudes we experience from our kids. That's because thankfulness is unnatural to them - and to us. It has to be trained. I am convinced that by teaching my kids how to be thankful I am literally handing them the key to happiness. God's Word confirms it. Thankfulness brings peace (Colossians 3:15). It cures anxiety (Philippians 4:6). It is our protection against deadly foolishness (Romans 1:21). It is SO worth it.
Ironically one of the most important lessons we want to teach our kids is also one of the hardest ones to model. We carefully examine the example we set for our kids to show them honesty, kindness, and humility, but we think nothing of grumbling in front of them; rolling our eyes when things don't go as planned; complaining about the house, our husbands, our workload.
Unfortunately discontentment is extremely contagious. Think about how you feel after spending time with someone who complains all the time. You walk away deflated. The world loses a bit of it's sheen.
The good news is that thankfulness is also contagious. A dear friend of mine watched her baby granddaughter pass away at two months old. When I talked to her about it months later her eyes filled with tears and she said, "I am so thankful we had her in our lives. She will always be our precious blessing from God." I want to follow this woman around. I want to soak up her thankfulness in spite of intense pain and disappointment. I want a thankfulness that stabilizes my heart in the good times and the bad times. And I desperately want that kind of thankfulness for my kids.
I realized from this special friend that thankfulness isn't just trying to be happy when you should be miserable. It means being content with God's providence in your life. It's accepting God's sovereignty and resting in His control. It means drawing joy purely from the fact that you are right with God in Christ no matter what your current circumstances are.
So how can we break thankfulness down into practical applications for our kids? It goes far beyond simply saying, "Thank you." Here are six steps towards raising a thankful child:
1. Accept imperfection. Be okay with less than what you expected. My three-year-old is a perfectionist. Recently he was eating an apple slice and it broke in half. To him it was utterly inedible at that point. He totally flipped out. Rather than give him a new one we took the opportunity to explain to him that things don't have to be perfect to be enjoyable. He looked down at his pitiful apple slice and tried to see what we saw. He managed to muddle through and eat it, although not very enthusiastically.
Society tells us to hold out for perfect - the perfect car, the perfect body, the perfect home. A perfectionist cannot be thankful because nothing is every perfect. Do you have a perfectionist in your home? Lovingly chip away at that attitude to make room for thankfulness. They will enjoy life so much more.
2. Be flexible. A truly thankful heart doesn't get ruffled when things don't go as planned. Our oldest son has a habit of getting his heart set on things. That's dangerous when you live in a busy household that has to cater to so many different needs. I used to feel terrible about letting him down when plans changed. But then I realized it was a precious opportunity to equip him with a thankful heart. Instead of trying to pacify him with something else we talked it through. "Sometimes things don't go as planned. When you feel disappointed, stop and think of something you are thankful for."
3. "Take it or leave it." Enact this principle in your home while the kids are young. In our house I call it the evolution of the skittle attitude. On special occasions I gather the kids together and give them each two skittles. It was amazing what happened the first time. Their excitement was instantly accompanied by greed. "Why two?? Can't I have four? I don't want that color, I want THAT color!" I took all the skittles back and said, "You may have what I give you or you may have nothing. Now, who would like two skittles?" Of course every hand went up and there wasn't a single whiny voice. Their attitudes changed from greed to thankfulness.
We all naturally approach life with an attitude of entitlement. We have to teach our kids (and ourselves!) that we don't deserve any good gift. It's all a blessing from God. My wise husband reminds me that salvation is all we need. Everything else is icing on the cake.
4. Give your kids less options. This is truly a strange phenomenon. When kids have less they are happier. I observed this firsthand when I was a teenager and I was babysitting my friend's three kids. She told me to walk them to the store down the street and let them spend their birthday money. I thought, "Wow, the kids are going to love this. A whole store of choices!" They hated it. They threw so many fits we almost left the store. When we finally did leave they each had a brand new toy and they were miserable. All they could think about was what they didn't get to buy.
Actually limiting their choices teaches them to appreciate what they have instead of constantly thinking about what they don't have.
We keep all of our kids' toys in small organized bins in the garage. They are allowed to bring in a couple different toy bins at a time. They have to put one bin back in the garage if they want to take a different one out. Yes, this helps with the mess, but the goal is contentment. When they start saying they're bored I know there are too many toys in the house and we put more away in the garage. Why it works I'm not exactly sure. But I'll take it.
5. Be careful of a critical eye. Do the kids constantly hear you finding fault? "This line is too long. That driver is too slow. If we only had better quality clothes...if only our car got better gas mileage..." Our words teach our kids how to view the world. I want them to see it filled with gifts from our Creator, not the petty things that inconvenience me. Look for opportunities to turn something seemingly negative into a blessing. You can shape their minds to find joy in everything.
6. Just do it. It's the principle of giving thanks whether you feel like it or not. Thankfulness can be expressed in words and actions long before it is experienced in our feelings. Our kids need to know that. This quote by Richard Baxter says it all: "Say not that you are unfit for thanks and praises unless you have a praising heart. Doing it as best you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart.”
Let's stir up thankfulness in our kids' hearts this week.
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Photo credit: http://mochadad.com/2009/03/10-signs-your-children-are-brats/