Keep your roots deep in him
and have your lives built on him.
Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught.
And always be thankful.
· Colossians 2:7 ·
One of the first things we want to teach our children when they are young is to say, “Thank you!” We gently prompt our toddlers with verbal reminders or give our older children the look when Great Aunt Sue gives them a gift or someone offers them a sweet treat.
Teaching our children to say the words is the easy part. The hard part is instilling a heart of gratitude, and as Christian parents that kind of heart is what we truly want. We want for our children to “always be thankful,” as the Scripture above states.
To always be thankful–not just to us or to the relative bearing a gift, but to our God who has blessed all of us far beyond what we deserve. When a heart is filled with this type gratitude, thanksgiving comes easily and is unprompted and unselfishly motivated.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a time that reminds us to focus our hearts on gratitude and recognize all that we have to be thankful for, making this time of year a natural opportunity to direct our children in developing grateful hearts.
The list below outlines 3 different ways to express gratitude and offers specific ideas for things to do to prompt gratitude. Commit to trying one activity in each category with your children this Thanksgiving holiday–it will teach them gratitude and most likely make you more thankful in the process.
1. Serve together in the community.
Helping others will not only be an act of kindness to those you are serving but will also provide an opportunity for your family develop a heart of thankfulness for the material possessions God has allowed you to have.
Here are some ideas of ways to serve in your community:
- Sort food at a local food bank.
- Volunteer at a clothes closet.
- Serve a meal at a soup kitchen.
- Take snacks or toiletry items to a homeless shelter.
- Take cookies to a children’s home.
- Go grocery shopping for a family in need.
2. Go on a visit.
Material possessions are not the only things to be thankful for! Children can learn to be thankful for their health (of mind and body), for family and friends, and for the service, care, and commitment alive and at work in the community all around them.
Here are some ways to help them develop gratitude in this area:
- Visit a homebound member in your church family.
- Visit a nursing home or assisted living facility and spend time talking, praying, or singing hymns with the residents.
- Visit the children’s wing of your local hospital–and bring some goodies.
- Visit a group home for children or adults with special needs and take some balloons with you.
*Note: All of these ideas require a phone call ahead to plan or make sure what you want to bring is allowed in the facility.
3. Create a visual reminder to celebrate the holiday and remember its true meaning.
You can do many crafts to get your children thinking thankfully (even a long-running list will work), but my favorite is to make a thanksgiving tree together. (Why should trees only be reserved for Christmas?) This is a tradition I started with my children 6 years ago and it has become a family favorite!
Here’s what we do:
We walk through the woods and find some branches. We stick them in a vase and secure them by filling the bottom of the vase with some stones or pebbles.
Next, we cut out leaves from construction paper. Then we write Scriptures that are related to giving thanks or write what we are thankful for on the leaves. This part of the activity we spread out over several days as a means of encouraging ourselves to think of more things to add.
We are also sure to include the names of the family members on their respective leaves!
Finally, we punch a hole in the leaves then loop some twine, ribbon, or yarn through the hole to hang the leaves on the tree.
As your family records what they are thankful for, be sure not to just allow the leaves to be filled with things–that is, simply material goods. Be an example as you work through this craft and make sure your children know you are thankful for your salvation.