Thankfulness: 5 Tips for Teaching Our Kids to Look Beyond Themselves
Guest Post by Carrie Partridge
An attitude of thankfulness is sometimes hard to find in our increasingly me-centered society. Attitudes of selfishness and entitlement seem to run rampant, while attitudes of service and gratefulness are often squashed or might even be considered to be weak.
So how do we cultivate thankfulness in our children’s lives—and even our own—in the infertile soil of our selfish society?
1. Clarify that it’s not “all about me.”
This is a good place to start. From the time our children are born, let’s do all that we can to keep them from believing that the world revolves around them, that everything and everyone is here just for them. If our kids call the shots around the house, we are merely enforcing their self-centeredness. If our kids get everything they want, we are simply fueling their selfishness. It’s not easy, but we must do all that we can to fight against our society’s “It’s all about me” mentality. Letting our children be disappointed from time to time does not make us bad parents; it actually makes us good ones. And teaching our kids to think beyond themselves is a great way to begin cultivating an attitude of gratefulness.
2. Get a new perspective.
Children need to be shown how different people live throughout the world or even throughout their city. They need to know that not everyone has all the food, clothing, and shelter they need. They need to see that people have to work for the things they want and that things aren’t just given to them automatically. Honestly, we adults often need to be reminded of these facts, too. We all benefit from gaining new perspectives. Although we’re taught not to compare ourselves to others, I think it’s actually a good thing to compare our situations to those of people less fortunate than we are, if it is done in the right spirit. It helps us realize just how blessed we are to have our basic needs met and encourages us to share our abundance with other people.
3. Serve others.
There is no greater way to combat self-centeredness than to serve other people. Teaching our children to look for ways to meet other people’s needs is one of the best tools with which we can equip them for life. And this can be taught from a very early age. We can involve our kids in acts of service—taking a meal to someone who is sick; holding the door for someone; drawing a picture or writing a note to someone who needs cheering up; picking flowers for someone “just because”; doing yard work for an elderly neighbor; or a host of other acts of service. In fact, encouraging our children to come up with their own ideas for ways to serve others is a wonderful way to increase their awareness and motivate them to make service a life-long habit. As our kids–and we–continue to serve the people around us, we will find ourselves becoming more grateful for our families, our friends, our health, our possessions, and many other things. We will also become more aware—and, therefore, more grateful—when others take the time to serve us.
4. Make thankfulness a common topic of conversation.
How often do we discuss things we are thankful for with our kids? If we can only picture this conversation happening around a table spread with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie, we should consider increasing the frequency of this particular dialogue. This doesn’t mean we have to formally go around the circle every day and name something we’re each thankful for (though we could!); instead, we can practice making thankfulness part of our normal, daily conversation. An easy way to start is by simply saying, “Thank you” to each other at home. We can thank each other for helping with the housework, for helping us get where we need to be on time, for playing nicely together, for the kids doing what they were told to do the first time and without complaint, etc. It’s also good for us to look for things and circumstances throughout everyday life for which we can be thankful…and then say it out loud!
5. Set a good example.
If you’ve been a parent for longer than a few months, you already know that children learn by example. If we have negative attitudes, our children will follow suit. Likewise, if we demonstrate a grateful attitude, they will follow this, as well. So let’s be the ones to start conversations about thankfulness. Let’s be the ones who look for ways to serve others. Let’s be the ones who always say, “Thank you.” Let’s be the ones to acknowledge how fortunate our families are. Let’s be the ones who generously give to others. And let’s be the ones who say, “It is not all about me.” Our children will learn valuable lessons by our lead.
Let’s not give in to the philosophy that says the three most important people in this world are me, myself, and I. And let’s not let our children buy into it either. Let’s teach them to be thankful for even the smallest of things. Let’s lead them toward a deeper and more fulfilling life of gratitude, rather than a sense of entitlement. Each of us will be the better for it. As author and pastor Harry A. Ironside observed, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”
This is a battle worth fighting. One where everyone wins.
Carrie Bevell Partridge has a heart to see families grow in relationship with each other and with God the Father. She and her husband Kevin have been married for 23 years, and they have five children, two of whom they adopted from Colombia in 2016. Carrie is a writer who focuses on words of encouragement and support for marriage and family. Her column, “Growth Spurts: Growing Through Motherhood,” ran in Parents & Kids Magazine for a decade, and she continues to be a regular contributor to the publication. She is in the process of writing a book on seizing teachable moments with your kids in everyday life. You can join the “As You Are Going” Facebook group to both give and receive parenting encouragement, support, and practical tips. Read more of Carrie’s work at carriebevellpartridge.com, where you can also subscribe to her emails. Connect with Carrie on Facebook and Instagram via @carriebevellpartridge.