“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Kids (and grown ups) are natural born complainers. This has been the case since the Garden of Eden. God works in marvelous and majestic ways all around us, but that’s not good enough for arrogant little dust clods like us. The Red Sea parted, our hearts continuously pump blood through 100,000 miles of veins, the earth’s magnetosphere shields us from deadly solar wind 24/7, and the garden tomb is empty. But that’s not enough for us. We’re born with a desire to follow in Adam and Eve’s footsteps, certain that God is holding out on us and we’re truly worthy of more than He has provided.
As Christian parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, and neighbors, what are we supposed to do to end this cycle of ingratitude and encourage kids to have thankful hearts?
This vast topic requires far more than a simple blog post to tackle it, but the short answer is we can teach them to enjoy Jesus. Of course that’s a massive and marvelous subject as well, but let’s focus for now on the “gratitude” aspect of enjoying Jesus.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” ~ Psalm 37:4
According to God’s Word, delighting in my Savior leads to a transformation of my heart’s desires. That’s awesome! As our minds are renewed through God’s power, presence, and truth the vicious cycle of ingratitude and selfishness is put off and a new cycle takes it’s place. Thanksgiving is a crucial and wonderful aspect of delighting in our Lord and Savior. (For further study, check out Ephesians 5:1-20 and notice how Paul twice mentions giving thanks as imperative to the believer’s victory over habitual sin.) So how do we do train kids to replace sinful habits with habits of thankfulness? Great question! I’m on the front lines of that battleground as we speak. My own covey of complaining kids punctuates my life with frequent opportunities to guide them toward gratitude. Don’t worry, I want you to visit my blog again so I’ll save most of my thoughts for future articles and share just one idea to help kids develop a habit of thanksgiving. And that’s where the swing comes in…
Pushing Kids to be Thankful
My beloved boy invented a game when he was 4 years old. I was pushing him on the swing and he started naming a few of his favorite things (toys, treats, brown paper packages tied up with strings, etc.) each time I launched him forward. In a flash of brilliance (which is obviously genetic) he suggested that I start naming one of my favorite things every time the swing brought him careening back to me. This game gave me an idea. Rather than naming just our favorite things, I explained that we could name things we’re thankful to God for. Since a child’s favorite things are usually the things they are most thankful for this didn’t really change the game much. It just changes our focus to include not just what we’re thankful for, but WHO we’re thankful to. (Which is a vital component of thanksgiving sadly lacking in our culture.)
When his little sisters arrived, my boy eagerly helped teach the game to them. (So I have verifiable evidence that even two year old princesses can play this game.) We play it on our backyard swing and sometimes even at the park. It provides opportunities to talk to my kids about what God says about giving thanks. I don’t preach a sermon or anything. I just quote some Scripture and explain what it means so that they understand the reason behind our game. (Frankly, I don’t think my young daughters understand the reason yet, but the game keeps them interested and I’m confident they’ll grasp it eventually.)
So that’s one thing I do to train my kids to give thanks–I push them. Of course not everybody has a swing, and there are WAY MORE ways to encourage gratitude in kids. (Not to mention the importance of intentionally shaping their hearts rather than just having them count their blessings because you told them to.) The point is, we can intentionally look for and implement activities like this into our lives to purposefully practice thanksgiving with our kids. It doesn’t have to be a swing. Here are way more “Thank You” activities for kids that are 100% swing free!
What have you done to help the kids in your life develop a habit of thanksgiving?