By Gail Marsh
Teaching children to be grateful can sometimes prove challenging! That’s because children (just like adults) are by nature self-centered because of sin. So how can teachers and those of us who work with children help them develop a thankful spirit - a thanks-living lifestyle?
It’s never too early to begin teaching an attitude of gratitude. Even young toddlers can begin to understand the idea of demonstrating thankfulness as they observe teachers using words like “please” and “thank you!” It’s important to model genuine gratitude as you define specific things for which you are thankful. “I just love your sweet hugs! Thank you!” “I’m so glad God made so many pretty flowers! Aren’t you?”
Simply modeling thankful behavior is rarely enough to instill lasting gratefulness in our children, though. It often helps to role play. Using stuffed animals or dolls can help teach children the words they need to convey grateful feelings. “Look! Bear gave frog a book. Now frog says, ‘Thanks!’” “Let’s give doll the rattle. What will she say? She says, ‘Thank you!’”
You can also practice scenarios with young children. Have one child hand another child a toy. Help the child receiving the toy say, “Thank you!” Help the giver of the toy say, “You’re welcome!” Then reverse roles and repeat the procedure.
As children grow, they can participate in activities like donating toys or clothing they’ve outgrown. If possible, let children bring donation items to church and let them know where the items will be going.
Help children memorize “thank you” prayers and songs. Older children can memorize Bible verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV), “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
A thanks-living lifestyle can be instilled through everyday routines, too. Prayers before and after meals and snacks will help children remember that Jesus provides the food we eat. A routine where every person names one thing for which they are grateful will show children that thanks-living is for everyone - adults, as well as children. Prayers can include words like “Thank you, Jesus, for . . .” where children name specific reasons they are grateful.
Special activities can also boost an attitude of gratitude. Put a “Thankful Jar” in your room to collect slips of paper that name reasons for thankfulness. Take time once a month to read the slips of paper and thank God for his goodness. Or, make a paper chain out of strips of paper and have children name specific blessings as you countdown to Thanksgiving - a great reminder of why we celebrate!
Above all, pray! Ask the Lord to help you lead your children to a thanks-living way of life!
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