When our kids were itty-bitty we were told to teach them a few basic words in sign language, as this helps eliminate frustration and whining in kids who desire to communicate their needs but haven’t developed the language skills to do so.
The four words that were recommended to us were “Please, thank you, all-done and more.”
And I can assuredly say, we found those four signs to be very helpful in the early days.
Looking back however, I do find it comical that “more” was one of the first four words we taught our kids…… because then we spend the rest of our days trying to teach our kids to be thankful for what they have rather than always wanting “more more more.”
Our children are learning what it looks like to live a life of thankfulness, or a lack thereof, through us.
In a world of so much selfishness and entitlement, I long to raise thankful children, ones who live in awareness of the basics they take for granted, the wonderful opportunities they are given, and the experiences they enjoy.
But even more than that, I want to raise children who recognize that everything they are and everything they have is a gift from God. Because, it is this kind of thankfulness that breeds humility, generosity, and happiness.
God exhorts us to give thanks in all circumstances, not because He needs to hear thank you, but because He knows that thankfulness changes the trajectory of our hearts.
However, the human tendency is to look at everything we don’t have and demand “more” to be happy. When, ironically, happiness is not found in acquiring “more” but in being more thankful for what we’ve already been given.
For example, I recall an afternoon when my husband and I were driving our three boys to the beach and we were passing by beautiful homes that sit right on the water’s edge with glorious views of the sound.
Without realizing it, I found myself thinking out loud, “Look at that one, honey. Could you imagine how amazing it would be to wake up to that view every day? That is my dream house.”
And immediately, my eight year old chimed in. “Yeah, why can’t we live there, Daddy? That one is so much bigger and better than ours!”
Ouch. I knew what I’d just done and conviction hit me to the core.
“Hey boys,” I replied. “Mommy needs to apologize. I’m lacking thankfulness right now. God has given us a beautiful home. We are unimaginably blessed. But I just allowed myself to believe that what we have isn’t enough and that happiness can be found in having more. Please forgive me.”
I don’t believe it’s wrong to dream or admire. However, there is a fine line between admiring and worshipping.
And I don’t believe it’s wrong to have an abundance, especially when we live in gratitude for and in generosity with that abundance.
But let us not forget, as demonstrated by my eight-year-old son, that our children are learning what it looks like to live a life of thankfulness, or a lack thereof, through us.
Therefore, if our goal is to raise kids who are truly thankful, we have to ask ourselves:
1. Do our kids see us worshiping the gifts or the Giver of the gifts?
2. Do they see us being greedy or generous with our gifts?
3. Do we lead our kids in living out grateful and generous lives?
Because beating ingratitude in our kids begins with them seeing tangible gratitude in us. And fostering gratitude in our kids only happens when we lead them in experiencing- actually living out- in word and deed, a life of giving thanks and giving back.
Jeannie Cunnion is the author of "Parenting the Wholehearted Child," and a blogger at www.jeanniecunnion.com. She has a Master's degree in Social Work, and her background combines counseling, writing, and speaking about parenting and adoption issues. Jeannie and her husband, Mike, are the proud parents of four wild and awesome boys.