Teach your children to be thankful.
Teach your children to be thankful.

Being thankful does not always come easily. We tend to forget what God has done for us in the past and forge on, demanding more. It is the American way, right? Sometimes this drive can be beneficial, but it also has the potential to destroy our joy. Ann Voskamp captures it well when she says, “Gratitude’s not a natural posture. The prince of darkness is ultimately a spoiled ingrate, and I’ve spent most of my life as kin to the fist-shaker”. I think we have all been there as adults. We can all remember times when we were ungrateful and even resentful, blind to the blessings around us.

Regularly voicing gratitude

It is no different for children. I would say it is even harder for children to be grateful. They don’t have the life experience to filter their perspectives yet. The culture our children are growing up in is one which stresses more — more clothes, more square footage, more Facebook likes. Am I right? To counter their (and our) natural bent toward greed and forgetfulness, we must be intentional about teaching our children how to voice thankfulness. Yes. I said voice. It’s kind of like love. You may love someone and never tell them. Voicing it is evidence of your claim. It is confirmation of your love for them. Thankfulness is something we may feel, but there is something magical about voicing it. It becomes a matter of record when we say it, and we gain joy.

Establish gratitude routines in your home. Have each person say what they are grateful for at the dinner table each night. Tell your child all the things you are grateful for about them before you kiss them good night. Write letters or make cards to people you appreciate, like extended family, friends and emergency responders. Teachers, pastors and missionaries are possible ideas. Keep a Thanksgiving jar the month of November, writing things we are grateful for on index cards and reading them aloud periodically. Come up with some on your own. It can be a fun activity for the kids. They will feel empowered and valued when you include them.

Ingratitude becomes entitlement

When we don’t teach our children the habit of voicing gratitude, entitlement comes to live in our homes. Once born, it feeds on the rhetoric in commercials that makes children feel like their missing out if they don’t have the newest toy. It grows stronger with well-meaning grandparents’ endless supply of desserts. It reaches behemoth status when your first grader’s best friend gets a cell phone. To them, everyone else has it. Therefore, you must be a mean parent or just hate them. They want it and they want it now! When they don’t get what they want, it is a sign they are not grateful for what they have.

Life is not a race to see who can get the most things. We are reminded about this in scripture when Jesus addresses greed. “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’” — Luke 12:15 (NIV).

Entitlement stand-down

Those of us who have had children for more than a minute know what that’s like. When we wind up on that square, it’s time to halt all operations for a stand-down. I don’t know about the civilian business world, but in the army, a stand-down is called when there is an emergency and action must be taken to rectify a problem. The most common is a stand-down for lost equipment. Soldiers stop everything and search for the lost item, regardless of the responsible party. In this case, the lost item is gratitude.

When there’s an issue in my house, I stop everything and regroup. I know there’s a problem when my kids become whiny and generally unpleasant. Sometimes, the complaining is delivered in a shrill, high-pitched frequency. We must remember something about childhood entitlement. The problem typically lies with the parent, not the child. A child is rooted in the values which he sees displayed in his surroundings. What are your child’s surroundings? Where does he spend his time in these fun pandemic days of late? Traditionally, I would say home, church and school. But, in the current environment, I could say playground, social media and video games.

Where do they spend their time?

With COVID-19 restrictions, you may feel like you have little control over where your child spends his time. Wait, what? You are the parent. You. Are. The. Parent. Yes. It’s true. You choose where your child is most of the time. You have a tremendous amount of influence over your child. Yes, there are exceptions. However, you wake them up in the morning. You run the house they live in. You make and enforce the rules. You buy the clothes, the gifts and the food, right? Am I hitting a nerve? So, if a child is not grateful for the nice things they have, take them away. Just provide the minimum for a time. This will let them miss the things they have come to take for granted. I have done no TV for a day or a week, depending on the situation. We have done no video games for a week and even not visiting grandma.

This is different advice than most parenting magazines will suggest. It is countercultural. But sometimes raising good kids means going against the grain, even when it is painful. Children may hate it at the time, but they will come to appreciate it sometime down the road. Until next week, be well.

Contact Cheyenne Belew at thechronicle@hillcom.net.