The Secret to Raising Thankful Children

Thankful. Grateful. Blessed.

We hear these words a lot this time of year. The holidays are a great time to be intentional in teaching our children to have thankful attitudes. There are so many fun activities that you can do with little ones to focus on being grateful.

At my house this year, we are doing the “Thankful Pumpkin.” Every day this month, each of us says one thing we are thankful for, and we write it on our pumpkin. My three year old says the same thing every night, “I am thankful for you, mommy.” He sure knows how to melt my heart! My five year old is able to think more deeply about the things he can thank God for. From his toys, to his cozy bed, his brother, friends, and Jesus dying on the cross for us, he has added many thoughtful ideas.

Our Thankful Pumpkin 2019

Then of course there are “Thankful Turkeys.” You can find endless varieties of free coloring sheets online featuring turkeys. Most of them use the feathers to write things children are thankful for. You can get really creative with these. We have enjoyed adding glitter, fake feathers, and googly eyes to ours. You can also keep it simple and trace your little one’s hand to make the feathers, or use finger paint. So many fun possibilities!

As wonderful as all of these ideas are, and as much as they create special family memories, they are not the secret to raising thankful children. In fact, if you never make a thankful pumpkin or thankful turkey feathers, you can still be very successful at raising children who turn into thankful people. So what is the secret?!

I meet so many moms who genuinely want to raise thankful children. They are working hard every day to instill in their kids a sense of gratitude and humility, rather than entitlement, like we often see portrayed in the media. The secret I am going to tell you is not really a secret. I am sure you have heard it before. But it is worth repeating.

The best thing you can do as a mom to influence your kids to grow up to be thankful adults, can be summed up in two words. Be thankful. Let them see you being content and thankful for everything you have, and everything you experience.

No matter how much we want our children to do what we say, they are going to do what we do. Children learn about their world by imitating and copying. They are always watching and listening.

Do you remember the first time you smiled at your little baby, and your precious child smiled back at you? It is so sweet to watch as newborns begin to notice the world around them. They love looking into the faces of other people, and imitating their expressions.

As babies grow into toddlers, they start to imitate our words. Sometimes when I hear my little boys talking I feel like I am listening to myself. It’s a good reminder to be careful how we speak!

So how to do we go from caring for sweet, smiling babies to helping them grow into grateful, thankful people? If the secret to raising thankful children is being a thankful parent and person, what does that look like in everyday life? The best place to look for the answer is in God’s Word.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:16-18‬ ‭

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4-7

These verses from the New Testament books of 1 Thessalonians and Philippians give us a picture of a person who walks with an attitude of thankfulness. There are three main points that stick out about the way believers are supposed to live: rejoicing over complaining, prayer over worry, and giving thanks in all circumstances. When we practice these principals the way the Bible instructs, the result is beautiful. It will produce hearts that are full of God’s peace, and lives that shine with evidence of God’s love to our children and to the world.

Rejoicing Over Complaining

It can be really hard to fight the urge to complain, so often over silly things. Sitting in traffic, waiting in long lines, or an incorrect fast food order can test our attitudes. We don’t have to pretend to like the circumstances. I won’t say, “Boy I sure love traffic!” That would just be silly and not genuine. But I do want my sons to hear me say, “Sitting in traffic isn’t much fun, but I am thankful that we are safe and have a comfortable car to wait in together. We can talk, listen to music, and practice being patient.” Those are all true things I can be happy about in a situation that is not my favorite.

A complaining attitude robs us of our joy, and focuses our attention merely on self. It is draining to be around a complaining person. On the other hand being with a person who can always find a reason to rejoice, is refreshing to the soul.

Rejoicing places our focus outside of self. It thinks about others. People who rejoice turn their attention to God. They think about the many things to thank Him for. Saying something in front of my kids as simple as, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful day!” or “Thank you, God, for our family,” can have a lasting impact. Just a short acknowledgment to thank God repeated day after day, can add up to a big sense of gratitude, and a habit of rejoicing.

Prayer Over Worry

The Bible commands us so many times NOT to worry. And yet, it is one of the easiest traps to fall into. How much time and energy do we waste worrying about things we can’t even control, or distracted by life’s “what-if’s?” When we worry, we are not fully trusting God to take care of us and fulfill His promises.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

Instead of worrying, we are instructed to pray. What a gift that we can go straight to God in prayer, and that He wants to hear from us. We can talk with the one who is in control of everything we are worried about. Next time you feel a worry coming to your mind, stop and tell it to God in prayer. Then trust Him with it, lay down the worry, and experience His peace.

Giving Thanks in ALL Circumstances

It’s easy to be thankful when things are going good, when days are sunny, and families are healthy and happy. But are we still able to give thanks when the storms come? Can we be just as thankful during the hard times? Can I praise God when my child is sick? Or on those tough mom days when kids just won’t seem to listen or siblings keep fighting? Can I continue to give thanks even if someone I care about is dying of cancer? Will I thank God on days when life does not look the way I hoped or expected? This idea goes completely against my sinful, human nature. The only hope I have to live this way, comes from strength I can find in Christ, and not in myself.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:12-13‬ ‭

Why should we rejoice and not complain, pray instead of worry, and thank God in everything? Because He is worthy, and He is good.

“For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96: 4

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.” Psalm 107: 1

The list could go on forever of why God deserves our thanks and praise. The air in our lungs, the blood in our veins, and the heart that beats in our chest are all because of Him. Everything we have, including our children, families, and homes are gifts from His abundant kindness. If you still aren’t convinced, here is the number one reason to live a life of Thanksgiving. The Lord Jesus died on the cross, rose again to save our souls, and invites us to trust in Him and receive the gift of eternal life. That alone should make us want to rejoice always!

I hope that as my sons grow up and think back on their childhood, they will remember their mom as a person who was thankful, not only when times were good, but also when they were hard. I hope they will have memories of rejoicing and not complaining, praying and not worrying, and thanking God in all circumstances! I want them to grow into thankful men, and have hearts that overflow with God’s peace. Thanksgiving is a lifestyle, not just a holiday event. The secret to raising thankful children…just BE THANKFUL!