Hunter ripped into his first present on Christmas morning, his parents and grandmother eagerly looking on. With a squeal, he triumphantly lifted a remote-control Batmobile out of the box. “Just what I wanted!” he beamed. Hunter’s dad said, “Grandma gave you the gift. What do you say?”
The boy turned to his grandmother and heaved a sigh. “I hope you got batteries.”
That’s a funny story, but it wouldn’t be so funny in real life. It’s no joke when children grab a toy that isn’t theirs or scream bloody-murder when we refuse to cave in to an unreasonable demand. None of us can guarantee the kids we teach and raise will grow up to be grateful people, but we can influence them. Here are three ways we can nurture an attitude of gratitude in children.
Become a Model
No, I’m not talking about making a runway walk in designer clothes. Our number one tool to instill gratitude in children is to exhibit it ourselves. In our prayers, we can express thankfulness for the workers who built the playground, volunteers who provide snacks, the pastor who visits those in need. In our lesson, we can find ways to praise God for his “mighty acts (and)…excellent greatness” (Psalm 150:2, World English Bible). Every week, we can pick out a student and thank him or her for performing a kind deed. When a parent comes to pick up a child, you can say, “I am so thankful for Jeffrey; he welcomes the new kids so well” or “It’s great to have Darla in this class; she loves to say the closing prayer.” These small gestures of gratitude can make a big impact on a child.
Get Into the Habit
Sean Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, wrote, “We become what we repeatedly do.” We can help kids become great people by establishing good habits in them. An easy approach to do this is to encourage them to express thanks during prayer time. Don’t confine the practice to the Thanksgiving season. Prompt them regularly to thank God for their family and friends, pets, favorite foods, an inspirational role model – anything good that comes to them as a gift. Be creative! I read about a mom who regularly gave her children art supplies and made thankfulness a game. The kids drew what made them happy and grateful during the day. The mother collected the pictures, made them into booklets and hung them on their walls. You could easily adapt this activity to the classroom.
At Your Service
My wife and I have taken all three of our children on mission trips. The experiences fostered deep gratitude in each of them. They returned home, making comments about how much they possessed compared to the disadvantaged people they served. As a teacher, you don’t have to take your students on a tour of a Third World country. Local opportunities to serve abound. Children can collect canned goods or toys. Youth can take on more challenging projects, such as working at a homeless shelter. Check Pinterest for service project ideas. Helping others carries amazing benefits. Studies have convincingly shown that young people who serve are healthier, happier and better students than their selfish counterparts. When children and youth are encouraged to be givers rather than takers, they tend to count their blessings and see that life is not all about them. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
As teachers and parents, we have the sacred task to help our children treasure God and value people. When we do, we will see their hearts enlarge and their gratitude grow.
(The World English Bible is in the public domain. “World English Bible” is a trademark of eBible.org).