When children are very young, it's easy to remind them to say, "Thank you," but as kids grow, so does their need to say more than a quick thanks. Their challenge is to develop a thankful heart. The following ideas are intentional ways to help your children grow in the area of gratitude:
My kids, ages 2, 7 and 9, say thank you routinely but do not often show their appreciation for someone's character. So in November, we began writing three thank-you postcards per week to friends and family. We thanked a very sick friend for showing us what it looks like to be brave; their grandfather, who is a retired captain in the fire department, for demonstrating what it means to be selfless; and the kids' teachers for their encouragement. My 2-year-old stamped hearts on the front of postcards. Then I wrote a thank-you postcard to my kids, including a collage of photos taken at each stage of our project. They were delighted to get it in the mail.
To help my kids show more appreciation to each other, my husband and I mounted whiteboards on each bedroom door. Anyone in the family could write on them, as long as the message was positive, such as notes of thanks or a Bible verse.
The boards gave my kids a new way to communicate. For example, if a sibling helped another with her chores, she could scrawl a quick note of thanks. It took a few reminders to get my children to use the boards. But this became a great way for them to show appreciation and encourage each other.
Being thankful can be fun. I wrote an appreciation note for each of my children, and they each wrote one for their daddy. We rolled up the notes and squeezed them into separate balloons. After inflating the balloons, we wrote each child's name on his or her balloon.
The children popped the balloon with their name on it and read the note. One said: Brooklyn, when the kitchen was a mess, you asked if I needed help. Way to SERVE! Matching one of the children's actions with the phrase "Way to___________!" helped my kids recognize the practical ways they had helped those around them.
Once their daddy arrived home from work, the kids sprinted to give him his balloons. They found as much joy in showing appreciation as receiving it.
Check Your Blessings
One day after eating breakfast, I pushed back from the table and said, "Check, please." My wife presented a bill to each person in the family. Then throughout the day, she or I would proclaim, "Check, please!" Folded laundry and other tasks came with a bill for services rendered.
At the end of the day, we tallied up the checks, and we told our children that we would gladly pay their bills. The day was a reminder of how blessed they are, and our children got it.
Signs of Thankfulness
When our children were around 6 to 9 months old, we started teaching them signs for common words like "milk," "food," "more" and "all done." But we also decided to teach "please" and "thank you" to establish those good manners before they started talking.
Thank You Box
My kids used to complain about writing thank-you notes for birthday and Christmas gifts. To make this a fun task instead of a chore, my husband and I filled a shoebox with many kinds of blank notes and inexpensive thank-you cards, along with crafting odds and ends. To motivate them to use these materials, they had to send their thank-you notes after opening their gifts but before playing with them. This helped them get right to the task.
Nurturing Thankful Hearts
Over the years, I've pushed and pestered my kids to appreciate all that God has given them, but my tactics were mostly unfruitful and frustrating. That all changed when I encouraged my kids to practice gratitude with a Blessings Book.
I folded five pieces of copy paper in half and put a folded piece of construction paper around them for a cover. Once I'd stapled the spine, my children were able to title and decorate it.
At least once a week, they made an entry, describing a blessing, an answered prayer, happy news or a fun activity. I was surprised at how quickly the book filled up. This simple activity helped my kids realize how blessed they are and cultivated thankful hearts.
Heart of Gratitude
Before my four daughters were old enough to write thank-you notes, I wanted to find another way for them to express gratitude. So I decorated a hanging wooden heart and wrote "thank you" in the middle. I explained that we would hang the heart on the bedroom door of any child caught doing good, as a reminder of our thankfulness for their decision. I was amazed how quickly the girls grasped the concept. The heart was soon making a daily trip around the house:
"Thank you, Sophia, for playing blocks with me."
"Thank you, Alexa, for helping me pour milk on my cereal."
"Thank you, Mom, for not getting mad when I was naughty."
Each night we return the heart to its downstairs cupboard. One night before prayers, a daughter placed it on the shelf where we keep our Scriptures. "Thank You, God, for everything."
My kids and I drive past a billboard for a local home builder every day. When we were in the process of buying a new home, that billboard became a regular reminder for us to pray about the process and ask for God's guidance and help. After we bought the house and moved in, I realized that habit shouldn't change just because our prayers had been answered. Now that same billboard acts as a "gratitude trigger." It reminds us how much we have to be thankful for. When we see it, we thank God not only for our new home, but for the many other blessings He's given us, as well. Ask your kids to help select things you encounter in everyday life that can become gratitude triggers for your family. Anything from a red light, to a certain road sign, to a barking dog or a particular song on the radio can serve as a reminder to give thanks to God.
A Lesson in GratitudeWhen my family shops for school supplies, we buy an extra backpack and fill it with supplies for a child in need. We pray for the student receiving it, put in a special note and then drop it off at a local charity that is collecting back-to-school donations. My son loves doing this, and it helps him understand how blessed he is.
Make it a point to express gratitude in the presence of your toddlers. You might say, "Thank You, Jesus, for the beautiful fall colors — the red and yellow and purple leaves." Or while you're in the checkout line at the grocery store say, "Thanks, Jesus, that we can buy this yummy food." In this way, they're recognizing that Jesus is involved in the details around them. Children will learn from your simple behavior to be thankful to Jesus for His daily care and provision.