‘Tis the season for speaking gratitude yet being bombarded with ads begging us to spend more on things to make us happy. If this is the message being thrown at us from every corner, how much more confusing is it for our children to navigate gratitude?

The Bible has hundreds of verses on thankfulness and none of it is referring to personal possessions, but to God for His good gifts. That is the kind of thankfulness I want my kids to grasp. In this gimme gimme gimme world, I want them to understand the very best gift of all – a relationship with Jesus, the Giver of good things.

Many of us have tried implementing activities or traditions to shine a light on the things we are thankful for usually in the month of November. We tend to limp across the self-imposed finish line having a half-completed pumpkin scribbled with things we are grateful for, just to feel like we haven’t really seen any growth in their gratitude.  

It has to be less complicated, right? I don’t think Jesus wouldn’t preach thanksgiving if it felt completely unattainable. So what does this look like to cultivate grateful kids in this entitled world?

I am not a perfect parent and I do not have perfectly grateful kids, but I did want to share some things I have observed as fruitful ways we have cultivated gratitude in our home.

Draw attention to your gratitude.

If you are having trouble cultivating your own grateful spirit, likely it will be hard to cultivate that in others. You cannot reap what you do not sow. Throughout the day speak out loud what you are grateful for. It can happen naturally on a car ride, “I am so thankful for the beautiful colors God made on the trees for us to enjoy.” Or over dinner, “I am so thankful for nourishing food that helps our bodies grow.” Or even when something doesn’t go as planned, “I am so thankful God gives us chances to practice our patience and try again.” Our words and actions are a reflection of our hearts. Our children are attune to our thanksgiving.  

Less Stuff, More Us.

I think we have all seen it play out in the toy aisle of Target or the grocery store checkout line – the child melting down when told no. As a parent, it is embarrassing and terribly inconvenient and it does make us instantly reconsider our “no” as a way to make the madness stop. But there can be good fruit if we stay the course and hold boundaries around the slow creep of entitlement and our kids getting everything they ask for or want. 

Our kids might outwardly demand the stuff, but what they truly desire is more US – our attention, our affection and our leading. I love that instantaneous excitement our kids express when they get to pick something out at the store, but that excitement is fleeting. God loves to give good gifts to His children, but sometimes as earthly parents we take that to the extreme, excusing every opportunity as one to give “a little something.” Teaching our kids to have a grateful spirit might mean giving less physical rewards and more quality time with us. The gift of relationship is one that surpasses all our tangible things. Relationship is what the True Giver has given to us.

As we approach the holiday season, consider giving experiences or uninterrupted one-on-one time with your kids. Model giving the gift of your full attention, just as God gives to us.

Teach them to serve.

God created our hearts to serve. A simple act of service does not go unnoticed by our Maker. When we learn to take our eyes off of ourselves in order to help those around us we can’t help but discover joy in the process. This might look like bringing the trash cans up from the curb for your neighbors on garbage day, or mailing ‘thinking of you’ cards to grandparents. It doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Model and talk about what it looks like to think of others first and consider their needs above your own as a tangible way to help our children understand the joy of giving.

Small, consistent deposits of teaching and modeling gratitude into our kids will add up to a rich reward in time. Seek the Giver first and we will grow to see all the good gifts He lavishes upon us.