Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 10...Teach 'Em Young

Have you ever been around a child who is so completely and genuinely thankful for everything?  It is refreshing to feel the gratitude that flows from their hearts.  My kids typically reached a peak in their outward expressions at about age 3 or 4.  Allison is still in that stage, although not as intensely as she was a few months ago.  I have had them look at me through tears of excruciating pain and thank me for giving them medicine.  They have thanked me for hugs.  They have thanked me for a million things that kids typically take for granted. Everyone they are around notices their grateful spirit. 

Unfortunately, this natural responsiveness doesn't stick for long, at least from my observance.  Kids become more shy about their thank you's.  They get sidetracked, they get used to benefits, and they fail to express what may (or may not) be in their hearts.

As a child, I learned much about being thankful from my parents.  Living in a parsonage, we probably received more 'blessings' from others than most people who work the average job.  These blessings were given as gifts of appreciation from people who were thankful for my parents investment, and these blessings helped to supplement a very meager ministry income.

But there was one thing that I knew without a doubt:  my parents never 'expected' people to gift them, and they never took those gifts for granted.  To this day, my mom hand writes thank you notes for every little thing she is given.  I love that about her. It has shown me that no matter how hectic her life is as a full time nurse/educator, pastor's wife, mom, grandma, etc., she is never too busy to return thanks in a tangible way.

I have tried (and failed miserably at times) to continue this pattern in our home.  Having three of the kids birthdays so close to Christmas means that many of our blessings come in a big clump.  :-)
And getting boys to write thank-you notes isn't the easiest thing in the world.  But I still think it is important.  I must not be in the majority, because I can't remember the last time I received a thank you note written by someone under the age of 18!  I would love to ask a group of moms how they approach this topic, because I know there are probably good alternative ideas that haven't hit me just yet.

I may start having the older children send thank you emails.  This would cut the cost a little, but would still help them develop a good habit along with creative writing skills.  That's a thought for this year.  Until then, we will gather around the table with our best pens and some pretty note cards...and we will write.

More than the writing, I want to help them develop gratitude as a daily discipline. And it's our job as parents to model the behaviors and attitudes that will lead them to that place.

"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people."
-- Sir John Templeton

Action Step:  Encourage children to be thankful for opportunities that they would otherwise consider routine, such as a toothbrush with clean water and paste for brushing.  Offer thanks for every meal...before and even after.  Cut back on "luxuries"...not to be mean, but to increase their value to the children.  Help them to become 'gratitude leaders' within their peer groups.

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