by Judy Ness
Above All Things, O God, Grant Me a Grateful Heart.
This saying has been written on my heart for years – and I keep thinking that someday I will get around to ordering the word-art letters so I that I can put it over the patio door in our home. With Thanksgiving approaching, we may individually, or as a family, turn our thoughts to the many blessings we enjoy.
But how do we teach our children to have an “attitude of gratitude” all year long? We hardly get the chance to put the Thanksgiving leftovers away before the media begins to bombard us with the message of Black Friday, and the number of “shopping days left until Christmas”.
If you are looking for the “reset button” this holiday season, and want to help your family focus on gratitude now and throughout the year, here are some ideas:
- Model gratitude yourself – your children will notice! This could be as simple as sincerely thanking them for helping out with family chores or recognizing their positive behavior. “Thank you for sharing your toys with your sister,” will not only reinforce the positive behavior, but help them to notice and appreciate acts of kindness or helpfulness from others.
- Talk to them about how everything we have – our life, our health, our family, our material possessions – is a gift from God and is to be used for His glory. Although it is satisfying to enjoy the fruits of our hard work, ultimately we need to understand that all good gifts come from God, and we are merely stewards. This attitude will help us realize that in times of plenty, or times of want, we should hold material possessions loosely because true joy comes from our relationship with our Creator—not material possessions. St. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 NIV
- Instead of asking “How was your day?”, rephrase the question to “What were you grateful for today?” This helps to focus attention on the positive, rather than the negative.
- Practice financial stewardship as a family, and teach your children to allocate a portion of their own money to spend, save, and share. Thrivent Financial has resources to help parents teach their children how to manage money and live generously through their Parents, Kids & Money Matters workshops (Learn more at www.thriventfinancial.com) Allow your children to make decisions about sharing some of their own money with appropriate causes or charities. Great joy can be found in giving!
- Choose an activity you can do as a family to support someone else who is in need. Perhaps you might choose to sponsor a child through a reputable relief organization. More than just giving a monthly donation, your family can develop a relationship with someone from another country through letter-writing and exchanging photos. This can help your children see that the vast majority of the world lives with far fewer material possessions than what we consider “essential.”
For many years my husband sponsored a young boy from Guatemala through one such organization. One year we sent a donation of $20 as a Christmas gift. (Many relief organizations pool birthday and Christmas gift money for the benefit of everyone, but this particular organization gave the money directly to the family.) We received a thank-you letter and a photo of this smiling young man, showing us how he had used his Christmas gift money – to purchase new clothes and shoes for school, some school supplies, a sack of flour, and a piece of tin to repair the leaking roof on their one-room home! What a change in perspective!
- Another activity our grandchildren have enjoyed is packing a Christmas gift box through Operation Christmas Child. These boxes are given to needy children throughout the world, along with information about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This can be a blessing for our children if they are allowed to choose items to pack in the box, and use some of their own money to pay for the items (learn more at www.samaritanspurse.org).
- Choose to help out someone in the local community who has a need – and try not to get caught!
Long before we had Food Shelves, each Christmas my mother-in-law would put together baskets of food for several area families in need. My husband and his siblings were given the task of leaving the gift on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell, and running as fast as they could so as to not be discovered by the family that received the gift. More than fifty years later, it is one of their most cherished Christmas memories.
- Make an effort to share gifts of time or talent. Let your presence be your present. Does an elderly neighbor need help with household chores or just need a friendly visitor? Perhaps a single parent with no other family nearby would appreciate an afternoon of free babysitting so he or she can run errands. Often the very best gift we can give a loved one is spending time to build our relationship. You can find more great ideas for restoring the true meaning of Christmas through Advent Conspiracy (adventconspiracy.org).
An attitude of gratitude is something that is not so much “taught” as it is “caught”. If we want our children to be less entitled and more grateful, we must, as parents and grandparents practice gratitude in our own lives. To be certain, we will all face times of suffering, challenges and sadness in our life. But gratitude can help us shift our perspective, even in the difficult times, so that we can focus on that which truly matters.
Judy Ness is a business owner, former teacher, and a passionate supporter of Genesis Classical Academy in Winnebago, MN. She and her husband James have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. They count among their blessings the wonderful education that their grandchildren are receiving at Genesis