The holiday season seems to be prime time for wrestling with greed. It’s strange that the one time of year we want our kids to be thankful is the exact time of year that ungratefulness can creep in. Over and over in my inbox I see the question, “How do I keep my kids from being so greedy or ungrateful this Christmas? How do I teach them to have an attitude of gratitude? “
Honestly, it’s a fair question. When I was a kid, we were tempted and even taunted by the latest toys or coolest clothes during commercials on TV. Of course, the build up near Christmas was intense and I can honestly remember going to bed on Christmas night completely exhausted from opening that mountain of presents, yet totally ungrateful because of all the things I “thought” I still wanted.
Kids today face that same struggle growing up, plus more. They see ads in nearly every corner of the earth, on computers and/or tablets, and the competition among friends continues to increase the stakes. The truth is, even if we get rid of the TV, an attitude of gratitude can be a challenge to develop.
But it doesn’t mean that we have to give in. We can raise truly thankful kids despite the me-first culture we live in. Like everything, the answer lies in getting to the root of their heart condition. Let me suggest several proactive ways to help!
1. Be an example of thankfulness instead of desire.
Trust me, I don’t want to start with this one any more than you do. BUT, this is indeed the biggest key to helping our kids become truly grateful no matter what they have or experience. As a parent, if I am constantly seeking more or talking about what I will buy “if I win the lottery,” When I personally struggle to have an attitude of gratitude, I am sending a clear message to my kids that I don’t believe I have enough. It’s easy for our kids to pick up on this and begin to feel the same way. We need to practice taming the tongue and speaking thankful words.
I have a friend who models the positive of this so very well. She is so thankful that it is impossible not to notice. If you spend an hour with her, you will hear her verbally give thanks for something – probably many things. She is thankful for rainy weather even when it ruins a parade. When her children were in a car accident, the first thing out of her mouth was an attitude of gratitude that no one was hurt. While most of us would indeed be thankful for that, we generally tend to panic first and we rarely refrain from rehearsing the negative parts of the accident. My friend did.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you to learn that when I met her mom a few years later, I saw the same exact behavior. No wonder she was so easily appreciative and even grateful in difficult or unwanted things. She had lived a lifetime seeing and practicing that attitude.
2. Teach kids HOW to be thankful.
This seems obvious, but what specific steps are you taking to teach this skill today? If you are like me, the answer is nothing. For the most part we kind of make the assumption that our kids know HOW to be thankful. We assume that they were born with this beautiful spirit. So yeah, not so much. Kids are selfish. Having an attitude of gratitude is having the ability to see past yourself. This means we are going to need to do some teaching here if our kids are actually going to become thankful.
First, let’s help them phrase and rephrase thankful statements. Instead of having your child say thank you to Aunt Melda for the gift, help them come up with a sentence that truly expresses thankfulness. For example, “Aunt Melda, thank you so much for the LEGO set. It will be so much fun to build a new spaceship.” We often assume kids can just do this on their own, but they can’t. When we help them we give them the tools to develop these sentences on their own as they grow.
The same thing goes for rephrasing ungrateful comments. If your child is disappointed that the soccer game is canceled, teach him to phrase a comment that shows an attitude of gratitude. Even if it’s hard. For example, “I’m thankful that God sends rain and that we aren’t in a drought.” Of course you feel disappointment, but if you rehearse that disappointment over and over again, it only gets worse. Philippians 4:8 tells us to think on things that are true, lovely, right, pure and praise-worthy. That’s the example we want to give our kids.
3. Teach the difference between wants and needs.
I know it sounds silly, but most kids do not understand this. In fact, even adults today are confused about this topic. There are things we need and things we want. They are not the same. On the most basic level, we need to teach our kids that needs are things you can’t live without such as water, food, clothing, and shelter. We also need to make sure they understand that while we need clothes, brand name or even brand new clothes are actually in the “want” category.
When she was young, my daughter told me that she NEEDED to have a particular horse book for Christmas. I love that she wanted books for Christmas, but I had to stop myself and make sure to correct her speech. I told her that she WANTED the book and that it didn’t qualify as a need and then I made her correct her statement. At age 11, she was none too thrilled to be parroting my new statement back to her, but she got the point. We have to be careful what we say because words turn into beliefs and they change who we are!
4. Teach kids to wait.
Probably one of the hardest lessons is the one that requires us to wait. However, the waiting is crucial for cultivating an attitude of gratitude in the hearts of our kids. If they walk into the store and see something they want, they need to learn to delay that gratification. As adults, buying what we want the minute we see it always has negative effects, whether that is financial trouble (debt), buyer’s remorse, or even a lack of true satisfaction. There is something so wonderful about seeing something you need and saving up for it. We’ve got to teach our kids these crucial habits.
One way I do this is to have a “no asking zone” in all stores. They are NEVER permitted to ask me to buy something. (Of course they don’t always follow this rule.) When they see something they want in a store, I encourage them to put it on a wish list. I keep a file in Evernote on my phone. We also keep lists on Amazon. Putting the item on a list gives them a sense of satisfaction. It’s not a “no.” It’s now a possibility.
As my kids have gotten older they have noticed that many things get deleted from the wish list because they simply don’t really want that item anymore. This is the perfect opportunity to show them how the item would have been a wasted purchase if we had bought it that first day. As an added bonus, the kids are ready to give a list when grandparents ask them for one at Christmas time.
5. Learn about true poverty.
No, I don’t mean that you should tell them to eat their dinner because kids in Ethiopia are starving. But this brings up a good point. If your child can’t be grateful for what is served for dinner, perhaps it’s because they don’t really understand the true poverty of so many people and children who live in this world. Do some research and find a good YouTube video that will help make poverty come to life. This activity will be good for parents and kids, as it’s easy for us to forget! Learning about true poverty will encourage an attitude of gratitude for all they’be been given.
6. Teach them what God’s Word says.
I saved this for last, not because it’s the least important, but because I wanted to leave you with this on the front of your mind. The truth is, we can talk until we are blue in the face, but real lasting change in our kids comes from their relationship with Christ. When our kids are no longer under our feet, we want them to still be grateful. Telling them to do it without giving them a good reason will be pretty useless. As Christians, we have a great reason to cultivate and attitude of gratitude. In fact, we have so many reasons that we probably don’t even know.
As I began to study this topic of gratefulness, thankfulness, or “contentment” with my kids, what I found was an arsenal of information and help in God’s Word. That shouldn’t surprise us, huh? God always has the answers in His Word! I would encourage you to sit down and really study this topic with your family.