Character building is hard work, but it pays off big time in the lives of our children.
It’s a scene that we’ve all witnessed and one that’s all too familiar to most moms: a screaming kid having a tantrum in the aisle of some store because he is not getting something that he wants and thinks he deserves. We all feel for the mom because we’ve been there before, and we all whisper a quick prayer of thanks that this time it isn’t our child having the fit.
Many of us, hoping to put a quick end to this embarrassing scene, cave and give our child what he wants, only to have him start the entire process over again in the next aisle. One thing I have learned after raising four children is that giving our children everything they want does not make them more grateful. Instead it makes them more demanding and ungrateful.
I encourage moms to look over the horizon and see the child that they hope to usher into the future and be willing to do the hard work necessary to build that child from the inside out with character.
A compassionate parent—one who is looking out beyond the immediate—knows that gratitude is a life skill that every child needs to learn. An ungrateful person is unpleasant to be around, never satisfied. She lives with an attitude of entitlement and disappointment; she is not a happy camper, in other words, and not likely to succeed in life, love, and work.
Although character building is a 24/7/365 task for us as parents, there are some seasons and events that are custom-made to teach character to our children. This season of Thanksgiving gives us ample opportunities to reinforce the development of gratitude as a vital part of our children’s character.
Below are 10 ways to build gratitude into our children’s hearts:
1. Start with God. Make sure your children are reminded daily through words and actions that God is the giver of all good gifts. Without a lot of piety but with lots of sincerity, let your kids see you praising God for His daily provision.
2. Lead the way. Express your gratitude to your spouse and your children frequently. Make it a natural part of your conversation to point out the actions, attitudes, and attributes you have observed in them for which you are grateful. You are priming the pump with your children when they know you are grateful for them.
3. Stop your grumbling. Our children not only learn gratitude from us, they learn how to complain and whine from our example as well. The next time you’re tempted to gripe about your circumstances, take stock and have an attitude adjustment.
4. Less is more. Remember that indulging children only makes them less grateful for what they have. Next time you’re tempted to give them more just to keep them happy, stop and help them be happy with what they have.
5. Learn to say no. Our children have the same human nature that all of us are born with, and left unchecked, it will consume them. Don’t be afraid to put a limit on how much stuff they have or how many things they get to do. When you say no to some things, it makes your children notice and be grateful for those times when you say yes.
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6. Teach them the value of what they have. One of the best ways to do this is to have them earn the next “want” that they have. When a child actually has to work for the money or privilege to satisfy a “have to have,” he or she will be much more appreciative of its value.
7. Help your children express their gratitude. Make sure you’re training your children to honor those who are serving them—their Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, piano teachers, coaches, and school teachers. Help them bake cookies or frame a special photo for them as a way of saying, “Thanks for all you do for me.”
8. Let them see the other side. Many times our kids are ungrateful because they have no idea how blessed they are compared to most of the world. Make serving others who are less fortunate a lifestyle. My husband, Tim, says in his book, Raising Kids for True Greatness, that the antidote to spoiled, rebellious kids is getting them out of their “me” world and into the world of others.
9. Count your blessings. Whenever possible, have your children recount the many ways God has provided for them that day. Before grace is said at the table, have everyone chime in with their latest blessings. And before evening prayers, review the day with your children as you remind them of God’s many blessings to them. Then encourage them to speak their thanks to God before they drift off to sleep.
10. Be patient. Your children’s natural propensity is to focus on what they want and not what they have. Any character trait takes time and practice to become a habit.
Character building is hard work, but it pays off big time in the lives of our children and in our future relationship with them. Remember to pray for your children and continue to model gratitude in your own life. Someday, they may surprise you with an unprompted “thank you.” When they do, try not to fall off your chair!
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