The Life-Changing Benefits of Teaching Our Children to be Thankful
Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16
Once again, modern science affirms the teaching of Scripture; this time on the benefits of gratefulness.
Ponder these outcomes:
- Less anxiety, less depression, greater well-being
- Being happier about school and more engaged with it
- Being less likely to exhibit anti-social behavior such as aggression
- Being better at managing life and identifying important goals for the future
- Having stronger relationships with their peers
All these outcomes are associated with being grateful, and research shows that those who have a faith relationship with God experience these most intensely.
The catalyst for this blog post is an article that appeared in the February 23, 2018 edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled How to Raise More Grateful Children by Jennifer Breheny Wallace. It is worth a read–whether you have children or not! One of the studies she references in her article is about adolescents growing up on Long Island. In her article she quotes the following:
In a study led by Dr. Rosmarin of the Harvard Medical School, published in 2011 in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found, in keeping with past studies, that general gratitude was associated with less anxiety, less depression and greater well-being. They also found that religious gratitude—toward God—was associated with additional reductions in anxiety and depression and increases in well-being.
Other studies cited in the article are showing young people today as less grateful than in the past. I find it interesting where they put the blame:
“In some communities, specifically among the white middle and upper-middle class, there’s good reason to believe that kids are less grateful than in the past,” says psychologist Richard Weissbourd, faculty director of the Making Caring Common initiative at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He places much of the blame on the self-esteem movement.
As Dr. Weissbourd sees it, parents were fed a myth that if children feel better about themselves—if parents praise them, cater to their every need and make them feel happy—it will help them to develop character. “But what we’re seeing in many cases is the opposite: When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to as well, and that leads to entitlement,” he says. And when children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.
I believe that Scripture has always shown us how to develop a healthy self regard. It never minimizes our sin or our capacity for evil. At the same time, as those created in God’s image and likeness, we are loved by God not because of how great we are, but because of how great He is! He has chosen to set His love upon us and He will not change His mind even when loving us is costly. Parents can and should bless their kids verbally. But it is when we personally connect with God that we are brought to sustained joy. As Moses wrote: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14 NIV)
So, if there are great benefits in teaching our children to be thankful, how do we do that? Four strategies follow. The first is mine. The next three come from Jennifer Wallace’s article.
#1 Develop the Practice of Thanking God
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)
Express thanks to God verbally, not just as a thought in your mind. Express it to Him directly and also in the midst of others–With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. (Psalm 109:30)
#2 Make it a Daily Attitude
First to God: Express thanks constantly, not just occasionally–…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 5:20)
Then to others: We should not think of gratitude as merely writing thank you notes after birthdays or Christmas, but something we do constantly as we express appreciation for what others have done for us.
#3 Teach it by Example
Am I modeling what I desire my children to do? In a Templeton poll cited in Jennifer Wallace’s article, less than half of adult respondents said that they express thanks or gratitude daily to their spouse or partner.
Scripture surely gives a picture of gratitude being consistently modeled: But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13)
#4 Serve the Less Resourced Together
From the article:
A turning point for the Welch family came when they started volunteering as a family to assist poverty-stricken communities, at home and overseas. Two years ago, thier daughter went on a volunteer trip to help rebuild homes in rural Texas. One house had floors so rotted that you could see the ground. When her daughter came home, Ms. Welch says, she got down and hugged the floor and said, ‘I’ve never been grateful for a floor, but now I am.’”
I have personally experienced this as I have ministered to the needy here and on missions trips. As a Pastor, I have seen this effect over and over as young and old participate in missions trips. Expanding our worldview helps to develop gratefulness.
God is commanding it–We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers… (I Thessalonians 1:2)
Studies are showing it–”They’re finding that the experience of high levels of gratitude in the adolescent years can set a child up to thrive.”
With intentional practice, experts say that gratitude can move from a fleeting state to a habit and can eventually become a personality trait.
“In a society that has become so splintered and self-focused, gratitude is a common bond and offers one of the best ways for us to connect with one another.”
– Pastor Mike O’Connor