It’s this time of year—more than any other—that our desire for grateful kids goes into overdrive. And there are so many seasonal things we can ask them to do: join us at the soup kitchen, donate to a coat drive, pack a box of gifts for soldiers, or grab a name off of the Angel Tree.
These small acts of service teach our kids to see the needs of others, remind them that they are blessed, and show them why they should be grateful.
Today, though, we’d like to talk less about what your kids can do and more about what you can do. It’s simple really. You can model thankfulness to your kids year-round with your words, with your actions and within yourself.
1. With Your Words
Say “Thank you.” If you’re grateful for something—a gift, an action, a person—say it. Let your kids hear you voice appreciation on a regular basis. Say thanks to waiters and store clerks, strangers who hold the door open, and friends and extended family members.
Be especially purposeful about thanking your spouse and kids—and let everyone hear your reasons. Take time to also thank God through prayer and reflection as a family.
Watch what you say about others. Your kids are listening. When you’re on the phone with a friend or chatting with your spouse, be careful how you talk about other people. What may feel like normal catching up or venting to you can stick with your kids in a totally different way.
Avoid envious talk or put-downs that only serve to make you feel better for a moment. Conversations like this teach kids that jealousy is an appropriate substitute for gratitude. Instead, use your words to build others up—and not just in front of your kids.
2. With Your Actions
Surprise your spouse or kids. Show appreciation to your family by taking on a task someone else usually does. If your husband always cooks dinner, offer to take a turn at the stove this weekend. If your wife normally makes the kids’ lunches, have the lunches ready before she wakes up. You may not care to clean your kids’ room for them, but you could grant them a messy day . . . just this once.
Completing a chore for your spouse or kids is a great way to say, “I appreciate the fact that you do this every day without complaint. I’m sure it’s not easy, and it’s not necessarily your favorite task. I want you to know that I’m thankful for you and that what you do around here matters.”
Write thank-you notes. When something is done that deserves more than words, grab your pen and follow up your thanks with a card. Do this in the living room where your kids are watching TV or at the kitchen table while they’re finishing homework. Tell them what you’re doing, who it’s going to and why.
As soon as your little one can kinda-sorta pen his name, have him sign any thank-you cards coming from him. When your kids get older—and especially when they enter the teenage years—ask them to send their own notes. The process of articulating two or three sentences of thanks goes a long way toward actually being thankful. Plus, who doesn’t love getting snail mail?
3. Within Yourself
Be content. This is a tall order, so just start where you’re at today.
When spending time with family or friends, work on being content. Don’t grab your phone every five seconds to check in on social media. Enjoy the moment. When you get ready for the day, try not to scrutinize every flaw of your body. Instead, be content. When you look at your home and your stuff, train yourself to be grateful.
And on days when you’re struggling to be content, do your little ones a favor and keep it to yourself. If you’ve got older kids or teens, use your discontent as an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about the struggle to be thankful and why it’s worth our every effort.
Parents, you really can model thankfulness to your kids. Do your best to be a grateful person and they’ll take their cue from you.