Our culture has quickly become a thankless culture. We have so much, yet we have so little that we can find to be thankful for. Perhaps this is due to a very limited world view.
For the most part, American children have everything they need and a lot of what they want. They give us lists at Christmas and on their birthdays and generally get some or all of what they asked for. They observe parents and grandparents running here and there to make sure that they are happy. This makes it very easy for them to grow comfortable with and even expect the many blessings that we have in this nation. They may even come to think of those blessings as entitlements. This can lend itself to ungratefulness and thanklessness. They want, want, want and expect that it will be given without much effort or input from them. In poorer societies, much of what we take for granted is cause for celebration and thankfulness, so in our culture we must find ways to instruct our children on being thankful. Thankful people are much happier and well adjusted. In thinking about how to encourage thankfulness in children, intentionality is a must.
One way is by demonstrating to them that nothing in their world is free. Although it might not have been them, someone had to work to provide all that they have come to expect and enjoy. When they realize that what they have did not just appear on the table or under the Christmas tree but it cost someone time and effort, they will also realize that they should be thankful for that person and what they provided.
One way is to make them aware of how much things cost. If they receive a toy, have them figure out on their own or tell them how many hours someone worked to provide it for them. If they are of the age that they can do one task for an hour, have them do a mundane task for half an hour or an hour to help them realize that someone else sacrificed in order to give it to them. When they are old enough, give them an hourly rate and have them figure out how long someone worked to pay for their playstation and games, a days worth of meals, or those brand name shoes that they just couldn’t live without. Have teens investigate cell phone plans and car insurance prices and figure out how many hours they will have to work after school to pay for them.
Another option is to have them sacrifice their time to give others the opportunity to express thankfulness to them. Some examples might be taking flowers to a home for the aged, or supplies to a local homeless shelter, doing a lawn cleanup for a shut in, delivering a meal to a neighbor who is sick or had a new baby, taking baked goods to the local fire or ambulance station-anything that causes them to have to invest some of their time purely in service to others. The reward will completely outweigh the time and effort they put in when they are the object of another’s gratefulness.
Expose them to the plight of many in the world that have very little and ask them what they could do to help. Then enable them to do something to contribute to the well being of another. There are many reputable agencies that supply funds for schooling and feeding programs in foreign countries that have financial adoption programs with amounts manageable for children of almost any age. If you fear that they may become overburdened, help them to participate in seasonal types of charity filling boxes of gifts for the poor and underprivileged or by providing a gift for a friend at school who may be going through a hard time.
By helping them appreciate the efforts of others on their behalf and by providing opportunites to be the object of thankfulness, children will soon realize what a difference thankfulness can make in their lives.