This world owes us absolutely nothing, and yet everywhere we turn most of us are surrounded with abundance. By the standards of our ancestors and indeed most people alive today, we regularly bask in an opulence unknown to but a small percentage of humans who have ever lived.
While success and innovation is certainly nothing to apologize for, when you combine this excess with the pervasiveness of liberalism and the decline of Christian influence in the West, it seems like it’s helped breed an entitlement mentality in our kids that is beyond scary. Those of us who pay attention can see it every day, from department store demands to restaurant temper tantrums and the doting, cowering, gutless parents too afraid of their own shadows to actually discipline their children.
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This thankless, entitlement mentality will, sadly, all too often turn bratty children into liberal adults who expect the government to provide them free healthcare and happy meals from cradle to grave. Yeah I know, it’s a horrible pattern, and it’s got to stop somewhere.
Somewhere along the line, parents MUST learn to teach their children the lost art of thankfulness. It won’t come naturally, and on the other hand no matter what we do they’ll never be perfect, obviously. Our sin nature makes sure of that. And certainly, it’s easy for even the most grateful among us to fall into a spirit of discontent. But by instilling gratitude as a character trait at a young age, we give our children a critical key to a lifetime of happiness, no matter what circumstances may bring.
We’re far from perfect as parents, of course, but here are a few principles that have helped us along the way.
1. Model Thankfulness
The first and most obvious thing we as parents should do to teach our kids how to be thankful is to practice thankfulness ourselves and be sure our children see it. When we observably thank the server at a restaurant, the cashier at a department store, the customer in front of us who holds the door open, or our spouse for doing something simple around the house, we model thankfulness to our children and give them an example to follow.
2. Teach Thankfulness
In the car, at the restaurant, at the park, or just sitting on the couch - wherever you find yourself with your children, find relevant ways to explain why an attitude of gratitude is important. This, of course, applies to any character trait you want to instill. And if you are modeling thankfulness correctly, your words will have all the more weight.
3. Show Them Thankfulness
Whether it’s working with a church ministry, short-term missions, volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen, or anything else that puts us in service-oriented contact with those less fortunate than ourselves, looking for opportunities to serve others in need will most certainly make us more thankful for what God has blessed us and our family with. Sometimes the best way to change perspective is to truly taste reality.
4. Force Thankfulness
Sure, we all forget to say “thank you” on occasion when we should. It’s our job, however, to correct our children when they forget. Even if they don’t “feel” like it, it’s important that they get in the habit of expressing gratitude. If the bad habits eventually become a part of us, certainly the good ones do as well!
5. Teach Them To Work
It’s an undeniable fact that something earned is far more valued than something given. Our children aren’t “given” an allowance - they have to work for it. They’re called “chores,” and they help run a household of six and keep Mom and Dad from losing their minds and collapsing from sheer exhaustion. They also teach our children the value of hard work. Teach your children to not just be thankful for “stuff,” but for the work God allows us to do in order to earn what we have.
6. Limit Excess
I began this article by lamenting aspects of the culture of excess in which we live, but please don’t misunderstand - I’m not one of those socialistic, anti-material types who believe we should apologize for being a First-World nation. Government welfare excluded, most of us have, individually and as a society, worked for what we have and in that sense, we “deserve” it. However, it’s hard to argue that most of today’s kids don’t have an exorbitant, excessive, ridiculous amount of sheer STUFF.
How many times have we watched our children play with a Christmas present for exactly one day, then find it in pieces under the bed a week later? Truth is, why would anyone truly appreciate things that come so easily and in such seemingly replaceable quantity? We aren’t doing our children any favors by showering them with gifts they don’t appreciate and, half the time, don’t even use. Limit the excess, and they’ll not only be more thankful for what they DO have, but they’ll also have less trouble keeping their rooms clean!
Teach your children the art of gratitude, not just on Thanksgiving, but every single day!
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