An Attitude of Gratitude
Most of the joys of my life can be wrapped up in a single word—children. For nearly 30 years, God has allowed me to serve thousands of children through local, state, and international ministry opportunities. However, I must admit, the greatest among these joys are found in my own children.
I can clearly remember the day each of my daughters entered the world, and I instantly fell in love with them. I remember the exuberance of experiencing each daughter’s first smile. I can recall the watchful anticipation of each toddler’s first steps. And I remember when each one uttered those three amazing little words, “I love you.”
I can also remember the work that my wife and I put into teaching all our children the importance of saying, “thank you.” For some, it came very naturally; for others, it required some work. Showing gratitude and appreciation is far more than uttering those simple words. As a matter of fact, science teaches us that developing an attitude of gratitude involves complex emotional and cognitive processes.
During this time of year, as families and friends gather for various celebrations, holidays, and traditions, there is no better time to encourage our children to notice the blessings around them, think about them, and express their gratitude in meaningful ways. As parents and children’s ministers, fostering appreciation in our children can come by asking questions that cause kids to think.
Consider taking a moment at home or in the church to lead your children through this series of questions. For older children, provide them with paper and pencil to journal their responses. For younger children, allow them to draw their answers.
- Look – “What are some things you have been given or are in your life you are thankful for?” Explain that these are material blessings.
- Think – “If some of these things were gifts or things you don’t ask for, why do you think someone gave these to you?” Explain that these are non-material gifts, such as being given out of love, care, support, etc. Ask, “did they expect something in return, or feel they were required to give it to you?” If the answer is no, explain this might be something that they are even more grateful for. Remind your child that every good gift comes from Our Heavenly Father.
- Feel – “How do these things make you feel? What about them makes you happy?”
- Do – “How can you show the way you feel about these blessings? Does this feeling make you want to do, say, or do something?” Encourage your child to give praise to God for their blessing and then look for ways to be a blessing to someone in need.
Once children realize the blessings in their own lives, they need prompting and guidance to motivate them toward acts of gratitude. These might include words and demonstrations of appreciation, as well as opportunities to “pay it forward” to others. We can help kids connect their feelings of gratitude with the world around them. Some practical ideas for showing gratitude during this season include:
- Deliver homemade cookies or treat the employees at a fire station, police station, or hospital.
- Allow kids to do chores and raise money to contribute a Christmas gift or funds to a local charity such as a family shelter, animal shelter, or homeless center.
- Work together with your church families to adopt a nursing home facility and buy inexpensive gifts for the residents such as lotion, slippers, holiday throw blankets, etc.,
- Decorate and mail Christmas cards to missionaries or military personnel overseas.
- Deliver a baked good to your neighbors.
- Leave a Christmas card (and perhaps a little treat) in your mailbox for the mail carrier.
- Go caroling at a nursing home.
- Take balloons or small gifts to the children’s ward of your local hospital. You probably won’t be able to deliver them to the children themselves due to privacy policies or COVID-19 restrictions, but you can ask the nurses to deliver them.
- Choose a day to serve each other inside your own home. Take out the trash for your parents, encourage children to pick up their sibling’s toys, and show appreciation for one another.
- Encourage children to look at each person they come across that day in the eye, smile, and express their appreciation with a simple “thank you” or a compliment.
- Visit the grocery store together as a family and pick up a few items for your local food pantry.
- Clean out your closets and take your old coats to a local shelter.
In this season of giving and charity, help the children in your care reflect on the blessings around them and give from an attitude of gratitude. As we conclude a year that has had its unique challenges—many of which we have walked through together as communities and families—let’s give God thanks for His provision, protection, and hope for better days ahead.
-By Shaun McKinley, International Director of Children’s Ministries as printed in the November issue of the White Wing Messenger