5 Steps to Thankful Kids | The Graceful Life
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Raising Grateful Kids | AshleyVarner.com

5 Steps to Thankful Kids

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to raise thankful kids.

What a perfect time to focus on this topic since this is the month of thanksgiving.

Each day, people are doing their “grateful challenge” on Facebook. I have a friend whose son is consistently doing this throughout the month of November, I always love to read her posts.

A little while back, I gave my two-year-old nephew a toy and he said, “Well thank you very much”. He was so genuinely grateful, so it really got me thinking about promoting gratefulness. How do we have thankful kids?

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Practical Tips for Raising Thankful Children

I want to give you some practical stuff today that you can use to raise children who are thankful in a world that really doesn’t prioritize this.

We know that we are following the will of God when we are thankful and we are raising thankful kids. He tells us multiple times in His word to be thankful.


Why We’re Thankful

Before we get into the tools and the practical steps that you can use, I want to talk to you about the why behind having grateful, thankful kids.

Is the reason that you want to have thankful kids because you want your kids to be better behaved or more polite, always saying please and thank you? Or is it because you want to have kids who are more like Jesus?

It’s okay to want better-behaved kids, but really we have to look at it and say, “I want my kids to be more like Jesus”.

Whenever we have that intention behind it, we become more aware of the reason that we’re raising our kids this way. It’s not just because of their outward expression of being thankful, but it’s about having a grateful heart.

I want to share several verses in the Bible about being thankful:

1 Chronicles 16:34 says, Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:17 says, Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

The motivation and why behind thankfulness is more than just saying please and thank you. Having good manners is great, but the words themselves don’t mean anything if the thought behind the words doesn’t match.

We’ve all heard somebody say, “Well thanks a lot” in a really sarcastic way. We can say the words and not mean them. We can say please or thank you and in our hearts, not really be thankful.  

We should be mindful that we aren’t saying “thank you” simply out of habit. Whenever we start to be thankful from the inside out we have, what you’ve probably heard of as, “an attitude of gratitude”.

We are thankful because Jesus tells us to be. We see what we would be like without Him.  Being thankful to the Lord ends up translating into being thankful to other people.

Let’s set aside teaching our kids for a second, and just evaluate ourselves whenever we look at verses like this:

Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourself.

Thankfulness really comes by seeing other people as better than ourselves and having that humility in saying, “I appreciate you”.                

Thankfulness begins with a humble heart, from a contrite spirit. We know that’s a heart that God loves.

How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com

So as we’re teaching our kids about thankfulness, we need to start with who they’re thankful to.

Obviously, the first person that they need to be thankful to is the Lord. I would say not only first, but most importantly.


Who We’re Thankful To:

Being Thankful to God

When we begin to be thankful for the things that God has given us, that’s when it has a ripple effect,  because we realize that everything we have has come from God. Look around you and realize that the things that are in front of you, you only have because of God.

The things that you see, whether it’s your child, the laundry that you’re washing, the dirty dishes in your sink whatever it is, is because of God. You wouldn’t have dishes, you wouldn’t have a washer/ dryer if it wasn’t for the Lord.

The Bible says that everything is a gift from God, from the one above. We need to explain to our kids that everything they have including toys, our home, vehicle, or even the food on the table is a gift from God.

Whenever I’m teaching my kids to be thankful, I really try to give them the other side of the shoe. It’s important to tell them that God gives good gifts to his kids.

How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com

Whenever we’re thankful to him and when we realize that everything we have is his in the first place, it becomes so much easier to be thankful. We realize that we would have nothing without him.


Being Thankful to Their Parents

It’s also important to teach our kids to be thankful to their parents.

When my kids get into this attitude of entitlement, I’ll gently remind them that someone is giving something in order for them to have that experience.

You can begin teaching your kids to be thankful starting early on in life. As your kids grow, you can start to tailor your teaching based on their ages.


Being Thankful to People Over Them and Who Have Gone Before Them

It’s not enough to be thankful to the Lord and to their parents, but we need to teach our kids to be thankful to those above them. This includes teachers, leaders, and pastors.

They need to be thankful to the people who take care of them, and also not just those who are above them but those who were before them. This includes grandparents, and soldiers, who have done things that directly benefit their lives.

This might be controversial to bring up in a topic about thankfulness, but about a couple years ago there were some issues in one of the major sports arenas where people weren’t putting their hands over their heart.

I wanted to explain to my kids that it doesn’t matter what’s going on in politics, or what each individual’s person’s opinions are, but when the flag is flown and the anthem is played, we as a family put our hands over our hearts because what we want to do is say thank you to all the men and women who have died or who are away from their families right now, making that sacrifice so that we can live in a free country.

How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com

It’s just showing them that there is a huge community of people around them who are doing things and making sacrifices for their benefit.

Whenever we teach our kids about thankfulness, my husband and I always try to explain that they’re thankful to the Lord, to their parents, to those above them, and those before them. Of course, there are other people we can be thankful too, but we try to at least hit those four key points.

We not only want to talk to our kids about who they are thankful to but also what they’re thankful for.

Being Thankful For God’s Provision

It’s easy to say “everything”, but with kids, you have to be more specific. It’s like when you tell your kids that they have to clean their room and you come back 20 minutes later and they’re just sitting there playing.

I’ve found that you’ll get better results by giving instructions one at a time to smaller kids, or a to-do list to check off for older kids.

If you tell your child to first pick up their shoes, or collect all your dirty clothes, or make your bed, whatever it is, if you can bite it off in chunks, then it’s easier for them to digest. They can do those things without having to try to remember everything.

The same is true whenever we’re teaching our kids to be thankful. We can teach them what to be thankful for by giving them little snippets of knowledge. Break it down a little bit at a time so that they can be thankful for individual things and they’re not trying to just think of everything under the sun.

You can start every day with a God who loves them, blessings like family, friends, a warm home, clean clothes, and food on the table.

How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com

Then I also like to teach them about being thankful for our protection and our provision such as a raise at work, taking care of us during a hurricane, or whatever it might be.

We should then be thankful for opportunities like vacations, scholarships, or special things that come up.

Whenever you are cultivating thankfulness in your kids, it’s really important to be the example for them.

There is a little bit of a problem whenever someone gives your child something and you say, “Okay, what do you say?”  It’s important that your kids don’t just say thank you but actually mean it. I know that we’re trying to teach these habits, but it’s important for them to mimic what we’re doing.

When you let your kids hear you thank God for things or you say thank you to other people for things, it’s going to come naturally in their language and in their interactions with other people because they’re seeing you do it.

Encouraging Children to Show Their Gratitude

My family and I just went on a vacation and we were on a houseboat. The generator on our boat wasn’t starting up for some reason, so we prayed for the generator. A little bit later it started without having to go back into the marina or waste time or gas.

My kids, who had prayed for the generator said, “You know what? We need to thank God for taking care of us.”

What it showed my kids was when we prayed for something and we received it, it was important for us to say thank you for that.

Another thing that you can do to teach your kids about thankfulness is the lost art of thank you cards.

I admit I have forgotten to do thank you cards before, but it’s really important.

I have a mentor in my life who is so good about this. If someone gives her a gift or does something kind for her, she automatically starts writing a handwritten thank you card. It’s really out of the sincerity of her heart.

Just think about how you feel when you receive a card out of the blue.

I recently spoke at an event and a woman that was there sent me a card. It was completely unexpected, and it was just so thoughtful.

Whenever we write thank you cards or we have our kids write thank you cards, it’s important to use thoughtful and meaningful language.

I also spoke on behalf of a ministry in my community to help raise funds for a project,  and I received a letter from the leader of the ministry.

She wrote something in that card that I will never forget. She said, “Thank you for putting feet to your love for this ministry.” I thought about what meaningful and thoughtful language that she used in that card.

I always try to set the bar really high for myself and for my kids, too. Whenever we write thank you cards and share them with other people,  we make sure to really use meaningful language.


Simple Steps for Writing a Thank You Note

I’ll break down how to teach your little one how to write a thank you note:

  1. You may want to start with “Dear” whatever the person’s name is.
  2. Write “thank you for the ________ (item that was given, or for coming to my play, or whatever it may be).
  3. Then have your kids write the way that the gift was meaningful to them. What we don’t need is a quickly written card that says, “Hey, thank you for this, or thank you for the money” instead, we want to have something meaningful and personal written.
  4. Add a note about how the person (and not just the gift) is special to them.
  5. Then have them sign their name.

For instance, if your mother gave your child a toy they might say, “Dear Grandma, thank you for the toolbox”. Next, they can say how it’s meaningful, such as, “I play with it all the time,” or “I built a dinosaur with it,” something really specific.

Then they should write specific language to that person, really kind words like “You always make me feel special” or “I knew that I would love it because you gave it to me.” It’s important to have that specific language, and then signed. 

It really doesn’t take much to make it special. Some people may think that thank you cards are a waste of time, but for me, I want to cultivate that thankfulness in my kids. I want them to think, “That person didn’t have to give me a gift, but they chose to because they care about me”. I want to show appreciation to them for that.


Exposing Kids to the Way Others Live

The last thing as far as teaching children and really cultivating thankfulness in your kids is, don’t be afraid to expose them to the way that others live.

So, my family and I recently watched “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock a couple of weeks ago. There was a story about an inner-city kid who was adopted by this well to do family. At one point, the mother in the story was setting up a room for him and showed him his dresser, his closet, and his bed. He was a really tall kid, so she had to get him a specialty bed that would fit him. She’s showed him all around the room and he said, “Wow, I’ve never had one of these. She asked him, ”What do you mean? Like a room to yourself?”. And he said, “No, a bed.”  

This child had never had a bed. It was important for my kids to see that, because my kids don’t know that kind of pain. They’ve had a bed their whole lives. Their biggest worry is if they both want to sleep in the same bed and on the top bunk that night. It’s good to expose your kids to the way other people live. Not just the people in our own backyard but other cultures, but seeing how blessed we are and being able to grasp how other people live.

There’s a program that my church does for kids to fundraise and give money to missionaries, and at the beginning of every month, they talk about a different country. My kids will come in from church and tell me about how in Guatemala this is what they do, or in Chile, this is what they do. Exposing them to how other people live is important.

We also support a child through one of the programs, and we give money every month to him, and I also have my kids write letters to him. Just seeing how someone else lives makes you so grateful for what you have.

The more that we have, the more we grow accustomed to the things that we have and the way that we live. We don’t really think about it too much, and we end up taking it for granted.

Whenever we see the way that we live is so much better than most places in the world, and the money that we have (in most places) is probably 10 times as much or more than people would make in a third world country, it helps us to be more appreciative.

Whenever you start to expose your kids to the way other people live and you teach them through different opportunities and different situations that come up, the more you’re being an example to them. You show them what to be thankful for, and who to be thankful for, and why to be thankful. You will find such a difference in your children whenever you are intentional about raising them to be more thankful.

I hope this will encourage you to teach your kids the importance of being thankful, especially during this season, this month of thanksgiving, and into the Christmas season. When you learn to be mindful about being thankful and cultivating that thankfulness in your kids, I know that you’ll be happier and they’ll be better for it.

How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com | Christian Mom Blog
How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com | Christian Mom Blog
How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com | Christian Mom Blog
How to Raise Thankful Kids | AshleyVarner.com | Christian Mom Blog

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