Raising Grateful Children All Year Round

If your kids are anything like mine, they completely forget about Thanksgiving in the midst of Christmas list planning.

Who’s thinking about contentment and gratitude when toy catalogs stuff the mailbox six days a week?

Not my kids, that’s for sure. They’re too busy paging through catalogs and choosing what to beg for this holiday season.

To my kids, Thanksgiving is a food-filled afternoon when all the relatives come to visit.

And really? That’s exactly what it is. Turkeys and pumpkins have little to do with an attitude of humble gratitude.

If Thanksgiving is the only time of year that your kids hear you being grateful for the blessings God has given you, you’re probably not going to see a lot of gratitude in them either.

If you want to raise grateful children, you have to model gratitude every day, all year long.

Make gratitude be an everyday attitude instead of a special occasion sentiment. Here’s how my husband and I are working on it:

1. We model good behavior.

No one owes you her time, her kindness, or her generosity. If she gives you any of the above, you should thank her. Period.

One of my older daughter’s first words was thank you. She’d heard me say it at least twenty times a day.

I thank my kids. I thank my husband. I thank my mother and sisters and father and boss and cashiers and babysitters and – you get the idea. If someone does something remotely nice to or for me, I say thank you. I even sign my emails “Thanks! Tara.”

If your kids see that gratitude is the way you approach the world, they’ll learn to do the same.

2. We donate our time and our money to people who have less than we do.

My children know that they are blessed. They know that there are people in this world who have virtually nothing, who struggle to provide basic necessities for their children.

We sponsor three children through Compassion International. We write to them every month, and we send small gifts with our letters. Every month (and at random times), we talk about how they have so little, and we have so much. It’s easy to be grateful when you compare your life with someone who lives in extreme poverty.

If your children aren’t already giving away a portion of their own money, check out Three Cups – a story about dividing your money into Give, Save, and Spend cups.

We donate our time to help people when they need it. We donate our stuff to raise money for Purple Heart veterans. We are constantly on the lookout for ways to help people who need it.

3. We write in a gratitude journal together.

This isn’t something we do every single day, but we do it often enough to mention here. I write in a gratitude journal of my own, but this is a family activity.

Usually over lunch, my daughter and I talk about all the things we’re thankful for, and I record them in our journal. It started out as a Thankful board two years ago, but we’ve made it a frequent activity.

4. We thank God.

When I pray, I begin by thanking God for all of the wonderful things He’s given me. It’s so easy to rattle off, “Thank you for my beautiful children. Thank you for our warm house. Thank you for the food in our bellies.” and on and on.

Because it’s how I start my own prayers, it’s natural for me to start prayers with my children the same way.

5. We talk about God.

I know this is about raising grateful kids all year round, but the best book I’ve read with my daughter this year has been a book about the Thanksgiving story.

The real Thanksgiving story is not about smiling pilgrims and smiling Indians patting each other on the back in a happy hello. It’s not about plump pilgrims landing in America and setting the table for a feast.

The pilgrims struggled. Half of them died.

The first Thanksgiving is all about God. I see the hand of God as the pilgrims found temporary haven in Holland, as they sailed across the ocean in tempest after tempest in a small rickety boat, as they spent a harsh winter huddled together in the squalor of that smelly ship, as Squanto showed up to teach them the skills they needed to survive. Over and over, He was looking out for His people, and He always gave them exactly what they needed.

And don’t get me started about Squanto, who might as well be called Joseph – kidnapped, sold into slavery, returned home to save the starving pilgrims. We’ve heard this tale before.

Read Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving for the whole story, and use it to show your kids how it’s possible to be thankful even in the midst of great heartache. Talk about how God provides exactly what we need when we need it, and help them to recognize those moments in their own lives. Teach them to be grateful for His providence.

Do you practice gratitude every day, every hour? Your kids aren’t going to get it right all the time, either. Forgive them the gimmes that come with those toy catalogs and work on being more grateful together.

Tara Ziegmont is a professional blogger, blog coach, and SEO specialist. She created an internationally-syndicated, award-winning blog called Feels Like Home in 2007 and continues to publish it today. Tara homeschools the older of her two crazy children and lives an old-school back-to-basics frugal lifestyle while working full-time from home.