Children do not wake up one day and decide to be content (or grateful). It’s a learned behavior that takes practice (and lots of it!).
Think about it. Even Paul didn’t suddenly wake up one day and decide to be content. He learned it, too. In Philippians 4:11b-13 (NIV), he wrote: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic. Thankfully, the fruit of the Spirit includes patience. As parents, we can teach our children to practice contentment, even while we are learning how to be more content ourselves. Try these practical, hands-on ideas created specifically for families with young children.
1. Start by simply asking: What are you thankful or grateful for today? Incorporate this into a daily routine or ritual, such as at the beginning of dinner. Go around the table and invite everyone to share. Then include the responses in a prayer. Lord, thank you for this food, getting to swing during recess, working from home, and snuggling with Lambie. Amen.
2. Keep a family gratitude journal. Write down how each person answered the question in number 1. At the end of the month, read aloud what your family chronicled. Scripture includes verse after verse about the importance of remembering the Lord and what He has done for us. It’s not just the Israelites with memory lapses. We tend to forget, too. However, keeping a family gratitude journal helps your family to remember the details of God at work in your everyday moments. Plus, research shows that children who keep gratitude journals are more helpful, altruistic, generous and compassionate.
3. Write Thank You Cards (or draw pictures) to one person each week. Think beyond the “thank you for the gift” note. Encourage children to thank someone for being a good friend, sharing a snack, being the Mystery Reader at school, or helping them at church.
4. Before birthdays or special events, practice how to respond after opening a gift. Young children learn through play. Pretend play can offer fun opportunities to try out different scenarios, such as how would you respond if the gift is:
* — Something you don’t like
* — Something you already have
* — Something you’ve wanted for a long time
* — Something you don’t know what it is
Keep in mind facial expressions, word choices, and even how to set the gift down afterwards. Mix it up so your child can experience different scenarios and responses.
5. Celebrate one family member each day or each week. On their special day, ask everyone to say why they love or why they are thankful for that person. You might consider using a photograph for family members not present. This can be especially helpful for young children to connect a name with a person. Expand the celebration to include friends, small group members, teachers, neighbors, and more. Lead your family in praying for that person.
6. Discuss other people’s wants and needs. Teach your child the difference between a want and a need. Provide children with relatable examples to help them better understand the concept and then think about ways your family might be able to meet a need.
For example, healthy food is a need and candy is a want. Many families struggle with providing enough healthy food options for their children. This could mean that someone they sit next to in school comes to school hungry each morning. School lunch might be the only meal they receive that day. Take your family to the grocery store and buy food for a local food pantry. Set a budget. Even children as young as 2 or 3 years old can help pick out food and begin to make the connection between a want and a need. Tip: Give them a choice. Should we pick carrots or green beans? Which do you like to eat?
7. Thank the servants and helpers in your community. Leave cold drinks for the garbage collectors. Drop off snacks at the police station. Bake cookies for the firefighters serving at your local fire station. Drop off flowers for the office support staff at your local school or the pediatrician’s office.