Teaching Children Thankfulness in Tough Times

Difficult days don’t just happen between January and October. The holidays are often filled with struggles of various types, making it hard to be thankful if we’re consumed with stressful thoughts such as job loss, family illness, or financial stress. But God often calls us to practice what seems impossible in our human limitations467321197 Some Perspective Last fall I attended a workplace retreat. One of the motivational speakers was a man who, over the course of several years, had endured the most horrific difficulties you can imagine: the death of his spouse, death of his grown adult child, and then several episodes of cancer that had spread throughout his own body. In fact, he had a challenging time of conveying his story to us since doctors had to remove a good portion of his tongue during cancer treatments. He had endured years of rehab in learning how to talk and chew food again with his limited ability. Still, this man’s message to us was that of thankfulness. Amazing!! Hearing our speaker’s testimony of gratitude in the face of tragedy made a big impression on me! Even this morning I found my prayer time including expressions of thanks to God for things I normally take for granted such as: eyesight to read my devotional study, a tongue to help me eat my breakfast, feet to walk through my house, and operative fingers to type this article. When we think of our blessings broken down in this way, we have so much in which to be thankful! But before we become arrogant in this fact, we need to keep some things in mind. God is the provider of all good things in our lives. In Psalm 121:1-2 we read: “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” But so often we don’t think of life in this way. We go about our days as though we deserve all the benefits and goodness we have, and that things will always remain in our favor. But we see in Deuteronomy 8:18 to remember the LORD . . . because he is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth. As the motivational speaker shared with us, things in life as we know them can be gone so quickly—including family, friends, health, and careers! We must change our mindset to one of thankfulness each day—not just that certain day in November. So, after we get this “attitude of gratitude” drilled down into our thinking, how can we pass on this philosophy to our kids early in their lives? Young children are concrete thinkers. Reality to them is based more on what they experience through their senses than that of conceptual thinking. When we teach children abstract concepts such as gratitude, it helps to relate ideas to tangible experiences in their lives. Ways to Focus Your Child’s Attention Toward Thankfulness:
  • Through the Senses. Ask your child to think of things they’re appreciative of by considering what’s around them—things they can see, taste, hear, smell, or touch. Each day your “Thank You, God” prayer time could include a few of these things. You can start by saying, “Dear God—I’m thankful for my soft bed to sleep on each night, eyes that can see the sunshine, and a nose to smell the bacon cooking for breakfast.” Keep it simple and light-hearted.
  • Through Relationships. When you hear of a challenging situation going on with a friend or family member, take mental note of it. If appropriate, relay the information to your child through general terms in order to create thankfulness in their hearts for ways God provides for others. For example, say, “I know of a friend who recently lost her job. Let’s take some food to her house tonight as a way to cheer her up and help her family.”
  • Through Your Community & World. Keep yourself updated on needs going on in your community and world (for older kids). When you see a way your family might help with a community/world need, discuss ways of meeting some needs. At Christmastime there are projects such as Operation Christmas Child® to enlarge your child’s focus toward people outside his immediate circle of family and friends. But you can find ways throughout the year to reach out to others around the globe or in your city.
Remember to express your own experiences of thankfulness for God’s goodness as they come to mind. Your children will enjoy hearing your excitement in recounting God’s blessings in new ways!