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Nurturing Genuine Gratitude in Your Home

We love because He first loved us.

(1 John 4:19)

It is a classic ritual. Mom nudges child and prompts, “What do you say?” Child obliges with a polite, sheepish “Thank you.” Satisfied, they move on.
But might something be missing here?
It is true that this parent has trained the child to display thankfulness externally, but how can she be sure that he is actually grateful on the inside? Good manners, though important, do not necessarily reflect a truly grateful heart. How can we instill genuine gratitude in our ourselves?

Shared Experience Gives Us Eyes to See

Ears that hear and eyes that see –
the LORD has made them both.
(Proverbs 20:12)
Fellow waiters are the best tippers, and when retail workers shop they leave the fitting room neater than they found it, out of courtesy to the attendant. Why? Because they have born similar burdens, and they know how good it feels to be appreciated. In a word, empathy. By God’s design, empathy opens our eyes to others’ efforts on our behalf and inspires appreciation for what they have done. In short, as we serve we grow our capacity for gratitude.

This seems self-evident, but, where kids are concerned, gratitude often requires intentionality. Children start out naturally self-centered and, rightly so, receive freely from their parents and caregivers. Because this is their natural state, they need us to teach them to recognize and to be grateful for the ways in which people bless them.

Generosity is the Ground floor of Gratitude

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.
But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh;
rather, serve one another humbly in love.
(Galatians 5:13)

Thankfulness can be taught in fun, positive ways. (No fair scolding children for their ignorance, especially of something which you have not yet taught them!) Remarkably, kids are usually thrilled with “gratitude lessons” like these.

One way to teach kids to appreciate others’ service is to require or, better still, to allow them to give and to serve. Most children are delighted to help, relishing the positive impact of their assistance. If you want to see a child’s face light up, task him to “help” (no matter how small) and affirm his contribution (no matter how awkward). Even kids who begin grudgingly will admit eventually that a selfless gift or act of service, even under a little duress, was worth the sacrifice, especially if they understand the positive effect it had.

Simple Ways to Seize the Moment

“Teach them to your children, talking about them
when you sit at home and when you walk along the road,
when you lie down and when you get up.”
(Deuteronomy 11:19)

As kids exercise their own “giving muscles” and grow more aware of what others do for them, draw their attention frequently to the people who facilitate their wellbeing. Call little family huddles to point out how faithfully a parent goes to work, how beautifully one sibling sings to the baby, how tidily another organizes the garage shelves or how smartly they have dealt with a tough social situation. Trace the origins of everything together, and demonstrate that everything begins with God’s provision. In doing so you will build a family culture of love, respect and appreciation for one another, for other people and for God.

Here are a few fun ideas to express gratitude for each other at home:

I Noticed You

Set up a “Notice Board” onto which family members can leave each other affirming notes: “Dear ___, Today I noticed that you ____. I think that was really great! Love, ___”

My Cup Runs Over

Set out some pens, little note papers and a small container for each family member. (You could use fun mugs or hang a simple canvas organizer from a door knob and assign each person a pouch.) As people notice kind or helpful things that other family members have done, they can write them down (see example above) and slip them into that person’s container. (Look out! You might need bigger containers by the end of the exercise. Come to think of it, why stop? Empty the notes into a file and keep going.)

Thanks-Giving Turkey

Draw a fun turkey on a poster board and cut colorful feather shapes out of construction paper. Write each good deed or character trait that you notice in your family members, as well as things for which you are thankful, and glue each feather to the tail of the turkey. By Thanksgiving Day you should have a handsomely decorated “thanks-giving” turkey proudly displayed on the family room wall.

Road Trip Kudos Session

Take advantage of time in the car to discuss the blessings that your family bring to each other. If you have to work out some family friction in the process, then strive ultimately for understanding and forgiveness. You all will be the richer for it.

Some other examples of people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude include our pastor, teachers, and employers; the grocery clerks, mail carriers, bus drivers and so many more. Point them out to your kids and invite them to do the same. Discuss how life would be different, and possibly less pleasant, without their contributions. Encourage your family to express their appreciation to them in appropriate ways:

• A simple verbal “Thank you” is always appreciated.
• Leave an anonymous note letting someone know that their efforts are noticed and appreciated.
• Fill out an official comment form with the person’s employer.
• Send a thank you note in the mail or by email.
• Make a homemade card.
Ultimately, remind your family that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17)
• Thank God out loud in your kids’ hearing any time you admire something in creation or in other people.
• Keep His name always at the tip of your tongue and they will absorb the habit of “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

The Golden Rule Doesn’t Cost a Penny

The Lord Jesus himself said:
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
(Acts 20:35)
So in everything, do to others
what you would have them do to you…
(Matthew 7:12)

Do not overcomplicate it. Instilling gratitude in our families is largely a matter of shaping the narrative in our homes, beginning with our own personal devotions, and viewing daily life from the perspective of beloved children of a good and generous Father. From this assurance we can then give freely and serve joyfully.

Eventually your kids may internalize the habits of appreciation, giving and service. Their expressions of gratitude will come from the heart, and they will initiate generous acts on their own. What a joy is it to see our children mature into the selfless, thoughtful, grateful people that God calls them to be.

The holidays offer ample opportunity to serve the community as a family, but why stop when the decorations come down? Lead your family to choose a lifestyle of meaningful service, growing empathy for other laborers and developing grateful hearts in your kids and in yourself, and you will build a strong foundation for gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but year round.

Aimee Riegert

Aimee Riegert, CSLI Fellow, earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and foreign language studies from Southern Methodist University. In addition to supporting various national security efforts in Northern Virginia, she has worked as an itinerant high school math teacher and drama coach, and has served in women’s ministries, praise teams, on the adult support team for Young Life and as a “mentor mom” for MOPS International ministries, as well as English instructor in several ESL programs in Japan. She is a graduate of the C.S. Lewis Institute Year One Fellows Program.



COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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