November 25, 2013

How Do You Teach “Thankfulness?”

Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday.

I am all about getting together with family (which will hopefully happen again on a Thanksgiving someday). I am all about eating great food (mostly the dessert). I am all about kicking off a few months of holidays (because I love Christmas). And I am all about sharing what I am thankful for (including the bag of chocolate chips in the cupboard that I sneak small handfuls of, and that Jocelyn laughs every time we take her clothes off because she loves being naked).

But about a month ago my friend Kaylee came to visit, and in one of many great conversations she asked, “How do you teach kids to be thankful?”

And I had no idea. And in light of Thanksgiving, I would like to know the answer.

It’s hard enough to teach kids the politeness of consistently saying “please” and “thank you” (which I have always been impressed with how Kaylee, a career super-nanny, enforces this great habit with the children she cares for).

But her question reaches at something deeper than being polite and saying “thank you,” (because when I was little, if we fought in the car on the way home from Chuck E. Cheese’s, my mom would glare in the rearview mirror and yell, “So this is the ‘thanks’ I get for bringing you to Chuck E. Cheese’s today?!” And I was always confused because I never remembered saying “thanks” in the first place.)

Rather, I think her question points more toward an attitude or an action of being thankful.

So in your opinion, how do we (as teachers and parents) actually teach kids the deeper attitude and action of being thankful?

One thing that I found from being a first grade teacher is that kids learn by example. If I wanted students to speak with their “indoor voices,” I simply lowered my own voice. If I wanted students to not interrupt me, I simply listened first. If I wanted students to be honest, I made sure to admit my own mistakes (usually followed by me exclaiming, “Silly Mrs. Broekhuis!”).

And part of me guesses that thankfulness works the same way. (“Monkey see, monkey do,” right?)

But if that’s the case, how do I model thankfulness? Is it by saying “por favor” and “gracias” to the nice boy who makes our ice cream cones at McDonald’s every weekend? Is it by saying one thing I am thankful for every day of November? Is it by dressing Jocelyn up and putting a sign next to her that says “Be Thankful?” Is it by showing her our poor neighbors and saying “be thankful, because you have way more stuff than they do?” (which can be tempting in a third world country).

Thankfulness, I believe, is related to contentment.

So when I attempt to model thankfulness to Jocelyn, I hope I don’t just say “thank you, Lord, for all the awesome blessings I have in my life.” I hope she also hears and "sees" me say, “Lord, what I have is enough.” And even more importantly, “Lord, what I have is Yours.”

I hope that when days are “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” that I can show her how to keep a trusting attitude about where God has us. I hope that when I take her shopping I don’t have to buy the best, the most, or sometimes anything at all. I hope that when she sees us tithe, she sees us tithing joyfully, just as we saw and learned from our parents. I hope that when Jocelyn sees how generous our friends and family are towards us, that she will also see us being generous towards others (so that as we have freely received, we freely give).

Simply stated, I hope that we turn “thankfulness” into something we are (in the attitude that we portray), and something we do (in the actions we show).

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

So I am curious, (teachers and parents with way more experience than I have), how do you teach “thankfulness?”

Grace and peace,