The Fruit of Gratitude: cultivating a heart of thanksgiving in our children

Please enjoy this guest post by Rachel, and have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

"What do you say?" I ask my son as he takes the cookie from the waitress. 
"Thank you!" he says with his silly four year old grin. 
I pat him on the shoulder with an approving look and secretly feel proud of myself that I'm raising such polite children. Even my one-year-old toddler says something slightly resembling those two words, although nobody outside our immediate family would be able to decipher it. 
I really swell with pride when our oldest, clearly and loudly responds, "Thank you" on his own accord. I must really be doing this mothering thing right! After all, every parent includes gratefulness in the list of character qualities they want their children to develop by 18 years old. 
As we head into another busy holiday season, though, I wonder if we're missing the mark with this thing called gratefulness. How can we cultivate this attitude in even our smallest children? 
A Heart Issue
First of all, we have to realize that gratefulness is a heart issue. All the "thank you's" in the world don't necessarily mean that a child (or an adult) is truly thankful for that gift or circumstance. I believe that true gratefulness comes from a heart that realizes that what they have is undeserved and hard earned. A great practical way to do this during this time of year is to show our children those who have less or are in more difficult circumstances than us. During the last couple years, we have taken our children to hand out candy canes and sing carols to the elderly at a local nursing home. We have found that it opens their little eyes and tender hearts to people in our own town who may be very lonely during the holidays. Seeing others in need naturally develops gratefulness for what we have been given. 
A Reflection
Secondly, gratefulness develops in our kids’ hearts when it is modeled in our own hearts and lives as parents. I believe this goes deeper than thankfulness for better circumstances or more money than someone else. True gratefulness appears in our lives when we realize how undeserving we are of the grace God has bestowed on us through His Son. When we are gripped with the sacrifice Christ willingly pursued and accomplished for a very ungrateful people, the response will naturally be one of praise. Whether we like it or not, our little ones are always listening. Our words and actions will reflect a heart that is satisfied not in money, position, or even a Pinterest-inspired holiday centerpiece, but in our riches in Christ. 
A Process
Finally, gratefulness is a process. It would be nice if once learned, it was a habit for life (like walking or potty training). If it were that simple though, we would have no reason to abide in Christ. John 15:5 is so important in the lives of Christian families. Apart from Him we can do nothing! As parents, the more we lean into the finished work of Jesus, the more gratitude will grow in our hearts. That attitude of dependence will be evident to even the smallest of children and will continue the process of more and more thankfulness in our homes. 
I will still be reminding my kids to say, "thank you" when they receive a gift from someone, after all it's socially polite to do so, but I pray God will give me opportunities to train them to see gratefulness as deeper than words. Paul says in Colossians 2:6,7:
"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."
When our children are rooted in the gospel, gratefulness will {eventually} be the fruit. 

Rachel blogs at Dishes & Doctrine where she hopes to help busy moms find the everyday moments where theology and motherhood collide. She is a pastor's wife and "Mommy" to three little ones. Besides coffee, one of her favorite things is meeting new friends online. Find her on Facebook or Instagram
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