Thanksgiving is a pretty cool holiday, and though it has been hijacked by the food industry and now causes panic attacks in kitchens across the nation, I believe it is still a sound concept; as a people, let’s set aside one day to be grateful.
Our pilgrim forefathers did not live in a materialistic society soaked in consumerism. I doubt that ol’ John Smith listed his new musket and leather boots as they went around the table sharing what they were thankful for. But again, I believe in Thanksgiving.
So, how do we, as parents, help our children participate in the core truth of this holiday? First off, there is no need to banish the trimmings and fun. In fact, that is part of what makes our family traditions memorable. Trace those little hands and make paper turkeys! Make pie and more pie! Invite loved ones, light candles, play games, and go into that carb coma like a boss!
The unpopular (because parents don’t love it when I tell them this) truth is, genuine thankfulness cannot be demanded. It cannot be shamed or guilt-ed into. It is a natural response to the realization that you not only have something of value, but that there are others who do not. If you are not old enough, with a measure of awareness of what happens beyond the borders of your own little world, you just don’t think in those terms yet. And that is okay! Childhood is for the immature, for being self-focused, for believing that what you experience is totally normal and what every other kid on the planet has or does.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: “Well, then it is my job to inform my child of the poor and needy in the world, that way they will realize how good they have it and start appreciating it for once!” Please don’t do that, and definitely not for the reason of manipulating your children into gratitude. This will only instill fear and anxiety in young ones.
I believe that the best way to instill gratitude in the hearts of children is to model it throughout the rest of the year. YOU be a thankful person, especially in front of them. Talk about how blessed you are in the areas that are meaningful to them.
I am so thankful that . . .
God chose me to be your mommy.
I have a healthy body and can run around after you!
We have a safe and cozy place to live.
Daddy has a job.
God loves and likes me just the way I am.
Cultivate a home where there is far more attention paid to blessings than there is to complaints. Use self-control. Be patient with you 4 year old who is thankful for apple juice and shoes that make him run fast. It’s fine! Perspective comes with time and experience and our little ones are in their first few warm-up laps.
Gratitude trees and activities are wonderful. I love them. But I challenge you to remember that it is how your kids see YOU respond to LIFE that will have the most impact on them in the long run. Are you grateful? Do you spend a lot of time dwelling on negative aspects of life that you have no control over? Are you expecting someone to come fix things for you? Do you regularly complain about what you do not have? Work on that, not whether your children realize how good they have it compared to people you see on the news.
Eventually, life will bring opportunities for our kids to become exposed to some of the harsh conditions in our world. As older kids and teens, they will be able to process that without being overwhelmed with fear that it will happen to them. Welcome those moments, resist the urge to say “I told you so”, and be compassionate. Let gratitude bloom in their hearts naturally. A “thank you” can be required, but true thankfulness is voluntary.