How do we encourage genuine gratitude in the hearts of our children?
What is True Gratefulness?
To start, let us look more closely this phrase, True Gratefulness, and analyze the internal process that results in this desirable heart posture.
- True Gratefulness is deep. It is more than just a “thank you” and appreciation for gifts and circumstances. It is not a polite custom; a means to award yourself a badge each November; nor is it something to check off the to-do list so we can move on to black Friday shopping. It is not a mere outward expression.
2. True Gratefulness is a response to the giver rather than the gift and requires a humble heart. Just as love is a verb directed toward someone, gratitude is meant to be poured out toward the giver as we acknowledge that the giver did not owe us. If we have any sense of entitlement, the gift becomes payment and the giver is no longer held in esteem. Entitlement stems from pride and is the opposite of humility, or humbleness. By humble, I do not mean poor, shy or having a low self-esteem. Humbleness is admitting our true state of imperfection and need. If we pridefully put ourselves on top of the totem pole, there is no greatness of the giver to admire, as we could only look horizontal or down when we are at the top.
3. True Gratefulness leads to joy. Acknowledging the wonderful attributes of a gift is nice, but as we delight in the goodwill of the giver, we are filled with joy because of the love, thoughtfulness, creativity and sacrifice that the giver displayed. We can instantly miss out on this joy if our heart is hyper-focused on the gift. Being only enthralled with the gift, we also risk falling into greed and dissatisfaction; all gifts, circumstances etc. can change, be torn away, or break. However, the result of a giver’s goodwill is intangible joy.
In summary, True Gratitude is a deep realization for the greatness of the giver and a reciprocal joy.
So, how do we foster True Gratefulness?
We can not control or change our children’s behaviors or hearts, no matter how hard we might try. We engage them; they make choices; and we respond (hopefully lovingly and wisely)–our hope is that in how we do these things, we can have a lasting, loving influence on their hearts. Here are some ideas.
Disclaimer: We are amid grappling with toddler entitlement. We don’t have this figured out, but I have a few ideas. Here’s to the bold diligence we need to dig in. I believe this is one of the most important battles in parenthood.
Having said that, I realize that we all come from different walks of faith, so if you don’t agree with all my ideas, that is okay. Please keep reading anyway and I am open to hearing your ideas for encouraging gratitude in the comments section.
1. Reserve time to reflect and ask provoking questions.
Let’s not get to preoccupied with activities, travel, experiences or material goods. Our hearts need time to process tangible (food and clothes) and intangible (love and forgiveness) things and time to think over questions like: Where did this wonderful thing come from? How much time do you think it took to make that? Above all we can pray and thank God, who always loves to hear our prayers (even if He has never heard from us before).
Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God."
2. Nurture a humble heart.
Generally, our modern world focuses on building a child’s self-esteem, but my goal is a balancing self-esteem and keeping my kids humble. They have intrinsic, priceless value, yet they are also not more important than someone else. I want to remind them that all people are created with equal value. Admitting when I am not perfect, and helping our littles do the same when they do something wrong (lie, bully etc) helps us be realistic and not superficially better than we are. Exemplifying the need for forgiveness and unconditional love is just as important.
3. Discourage entitlement.
While we want our kids feel secure, and daily expectations helps with that, we also want our children to grasp that we do not always get what we want. We also do not deserve to demand anything. (Sometimes our favorite cereal runs out, and my toddler is not entitled to an emergency run to the grocery store). We need to know the difference between needs and wants. Making a list of these and discussing them is one way to help our children differentiate these.
I also try to point out how the world we live in allows us to select SO MANY things rather than just being okay with what we are dealt (Netflix v. cable for example). At times, I limit selections. Too many options can be overwhelming anyway, and my kids need to be okay with whatever color M&M they get from the potty jar! Lol.
4. Encourage thanking the giver/maker.
Writing thank-you cards is great! (No matter if those cards actually make it to the mailbox….oops! That has been me so many times). Thank the cook. Pray not only for the food we are about to eat, but also for the hands that prepared the food.
We can also thank our Creator, who not only provides us with things like colorful sunsets, the sound of water bubbling in the creek but thoughtfully designed our eyes to see the color and ears to hear. Lastly, we can joyfully thank Him for how he bought us our forgiveness and redemption.
Isaiah 46:4 "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
Isaiah 53:5 "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him."
Thanks for reading!
Check out more blog posts in this category, Digging Deep: A Full Cup
Happy Fall Yall!!