Growing gratitude in our kids
Well, the Christmas season is here! A time for making merry, for celebrating, for parties, for presents and for joy. I remember as a kid the anticipation of Advent, watching as the pile of presents under the tree grew bigger and bigger. And then the frenzy of ripped wrapping paper on Christmas morning, followed by the huge, unwelcome task of writing those thank-you notes. Somehow much less attractive than receiving the presents!
We want our kids to be grateful. Not only because God asks us to, but we know that truly grateful people are happier and more content. So we teach them to say, 'Thank you.' But what if that isn’t the key to raising grateful kids?
At school, I had a geography teacher called Miss Swann. I didn’t actually like geography and gave it up as soon as I could, but one thing Miss Swann said changed my life forever. She had done some voluntary work in Africa and peppered her lessons with anecdotes about her time there. One day, as I was day-dreaming at my desk, she described how the children she’d taught in Africa had only one cup of water a day to wash themselves in. Bam! For some reason, that picture changed my attitude to water forever. To this day, whenever I turn on a tap, I say a silent prayer thanking God for our never-ending supply of clean and life-giving water.
I wonder if the key to raising grateful kids isn’t about their behaviour, but their perspective? Not telling them to say, ‘Thank you’, but widening their vision so that gratitude becomes part of who they are? God designed us to be thankful, so let's explore ways to show them a view of the world, of God and of themselves that allows them to grow into that.
This Advent, we thought about spending a bit of time exploring what might spark gratitude in our kids and ourselves. So here are a few ideas for starting conversations about gratitude during Advent. Use them in whatever way works best for your family, whether doing one a day or doing one or two from each category when it suits you. It’s not about making everyone say ‘Thank you’, but about changing our perspective so that gratitude naturally overflows.
Some will work for your family; some won’t. Use this as a springboard to spark your own ideas. Wouldn’t it be great if together we could discover how to really make this Advent a season of gratitude and joy? Share your experiences and ideas using #growinggratitude.
Creating opportunities for gratitude in our relationships
- Start a family gratitude jar to use for the next year. Grab any jar, some slips of paper and a pen. When somebody does something that you are especially grateful for, write down what they did and why it sparked gratitude in you. Once the jar is full, plan a family night where you cook your favourite food and share what you wrote and why it meant so much to you.
- Check out Paul’s letters - he is always listing people he is grateful for. Chat about which people you are especially grateful for at the moment and why. If there's a natural way to do so, maybe mention someone you’re thankful for in your next email or text.
- Talk about your favourite hobbies or activities. Who has made it possible for you to do them?
- Have a scroll through some old photos on your phone or computer. If you have family photo albums or photobooks, dig those out too. Enjoy reminiscing and remembering special people and memories.
- Draw a heart in the middle of a piece of paper and write or draw your family in it. Around that heart, draw a series of hearts, so your family is enclosed in hearts. In each one write the name of people who surround your family with love.
- Ask someone else in your family, ‘What’s the best thing someone’s done for you this week?’ Share your answer too.
- Think about the different people in your life who’ve helped you to meet God and know him better. Chat to God about them and see if you can catch from him any encouragements to share with them.
- Run through your day in your mind and share about anybody who you saw today who made your life easier.
Creating opportunities for gratitude for what we’ve been given
- Try an experiment taking away one of your senses for one meal. Wear a blindfold, ear plugs or oven gloves. Tell God your favourite sense and why. Ask Him any questions you have about them.
- As you are enjoying something you love to eat, talk about whose work made it possible for you to enjoy it – not just the person who cooked it, but the person who worked to grow it in the first place, the person who harvested it, the person who packed it up, the person who drove it to the factory… you get the picture!
- Count the number of pairs of shoes in your house. Consider going on a short walk barefoot or in the wrong shoes (like flip flops on a rainy day) to experience firsthand what a difference it makes to have the right footwear.
- Give everyone three stickers or Post-it notes and ask them to imagine they are only allowed to keep three things from the whole house. Ask each person to stick them on the things (not people or pets!) that they would choose. At the end of the day, share with each other what you chose and why.
- Get creative! Spend some time using whatever your child is into at the moment whether that’s Lego, Minecraft, playdough, video animation, baking or painting. Build, draw, paint, mould or bake something you are grateful for and share it with God and each other.
- Try going one hour (or however long you can manage) without electricity and see what you miss most.
- If you have a gratitude journal or somewhere you scribble down things you’re thankful for, leave it out for your children to see. If not, why not start one? You might want to each do your own thing or decide together to do a family one. A cheap diary or blank notebook works really well for this.
- Ask God to show you things he's given you. Write down whatever you catch in a wordcloud (using pens and paper or digitally) or draw what God shows you. Put it somewhere you'll see it often.
Creating opportunities for gratitude to God and for who he is to us
- Encourage your children to ask other people in their life (grandparents, godparents, friends from church) what they are grateful to God for and how they thank him.
- Share stories of what God has done for you, big or little, over this last year.
- Ask God what makes his heart happy and see what you catch back.
- Watch a nature documentary like Dynasties, or go for a walk, taking time to stop and examine nature close up. Chat to God about which parts of his creation you find funniest, most beautiful and most amazing.
- Pause and go over the highs and lows of your day with God. Ask Him to help you notice things you might not have seen at the time.
- Talk about the different names of God – for example, shepherd, rock, healer, almighty, provider. Which is your favourite? Why? If you want, you could decorate a decoration for the Christmas tree to remind you of this. Save any decorations with names of God that you don't use and put them in your Christmas decoration box for next year - a different name might be significant to you then.
- Share a tough time where you had to learn to thank God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Explain what was so hard and how you chose to be thankful through that, or what you are more thankful for as a result now. Was there anything that helped you share your heart with God during that time?
- Read the Christmas story together. Wonder together: ‘What would the world be like if God hadn’t come to earth?’