Our three-year-old son, Landon, came home from preschool last year with brown construction paper cut into the shape of feathers and a note for Christi and me.
We were to talk with Landon about what he was thankful for and then write them on the respective feathers. Each child, it turns out, was making a turkey at school and learning what it means to be thankful.
I’m glad the school is teaching him. When we sat down with Landon to learn from him what he was thankful for, he didn’t know what it meant to be “thankful.”
I know he was only three-years-old at the time, but it was a big lesson for Christi and me.
One year later, we’re winning again. Just last night, as I was tucking Landon in–and completely unsolicited–he asked me, “Dad, what are you thankful for?”
Teaching our kids good manners is important, but if we don’t show them why the behaviors are important, they’re unlikely to stick over time.
So how do we help our kids understand why it’s important to say “thank you?”
This may seem like a simple, feel good, even tweetable phrase. But let’s get practical.
Let’s put ourselves in our child’s shoes for a moment.
If we were to ask our kids whether the words grumbler or encourager better described us, what would they say? Throughout any given day, would they hear more complaints or compliments coming from our mouths?
Are we criticizing our spouses? Gossiping about our neighbors? Complaining about the upcoming holidays? Faultfinding toward our kids?
I think we often do this without even realizing our kids are listening.
Preparing dinner with our kids in earshot—rather than thanking Christi for getting the sheets washed and beds made for my parents to visit for Thanksgiving—I nitpick that the kitchen is a mess. Instead of thanking me for working hard for our family, she complains that I got home ten minutes later than I said I was going to.
If you’re as human as we are, you can tell how the rest of the evening is set to unfold.
But what if we made just one super small tweak in how we think? Scientific research shows we can live a happier life–catch this–by asking one key question of ourselves, “What am I grateful for?”
Did you know being grateful has the same effect on the brain as the antidepressant Wellbutrin?
Know what Prozac does? It increases serotonin. So does gratitude.
Oh yeah, and if you’re struggling with God’s will for your life, consider that he’s more concerned about who you’re becoming than what you’re doing.
Paul writes, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Corinthians 5:18, ESV).
Doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Here are a few ways we’re going to teach our kids what it means to be thankful through the holidays. We would love for you to join us.
Between now and Christmas…
1. Either at dinner or before bed each night, describe for your kids what you’re thankful for and ask them what they were thankful for that day.
2. Practice becoming more openly thankful toward one another in front of your kids.
3. Christi and I are going to begin each day by sending a short “thank you” email or text message to someone we’re thankful for.
4. Focus each day on speaking more compliments than complaints toward your kids. Specify verbally the thoughtful behavior or gesture you’re complimenting them on.
Remember, our kids do as we do, not as we say.
As Brene Brown writes, “…the question isn’t so much ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is: ‘Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?’”
Let’s be thankful.