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Teaching Children Gratitude - My Extreme Measures

Girl peeking during prayer before meal,book cover

Teaching my children to be thankful and have an attitude of gratitude has been one of my greatest challenges as a parent. Like many children in our Western culture, my kids are very privileged and they don’t always appreciate the things that they have, from the food in the fridge to the abundant toys in their playroom!

So earlier this year, in a moment when their little sin natures were showing the most ungrateful hearts, my husband and I came up with a plan to adjust their attitudes. You may think we’re the cruelest parents in the world, but one day we decided to take all their toys away… for the entire summer! Yes, we collected all their toys and locked them away in our bedroom.

I’ll be completely honest with you, it was most unpleasant for us because we had no bedroom left after all their toys were in our room!

However, this punishment started to bring out some positive changes immediately. For one, my children tapped into their creativity again and learned to have more fun with markers and a single cardboard box than an entire playroom of toys. They also started reading more.

Pretty soon, my children started to act more grateful and they started appreciating not only all that we do for them as parents, but all their gifts from God.

It’s been a few months since our summer hiatus from toys and unfortunately, they’ve fallen back into some bad habits. It’s our imperfect sin nature. They’re being bombarded with “buy this” and “buy that” messages everywhere we turn, and I’m starting to feel like we’re in that cycle of being ungrateful for what we have again.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, this time around I’ve turned to some great books that will help them count their blessings, not their Christmas wish-lists. Since they love reading the same books over and over again, I think this might be a great way for the message to stick with them.

Here are four different books we enjoyed that you might want to include in your repertoire when teaching children gratitude:

  1. An old family favorite are the Berenstain Bears. The Berenstain Bears help children understand how God wants them to live every day. In The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks the bears are reminded of how God provides—that everything we have comes from God. We have many blessings and should be thankful for all of them. Our lives are so precious and we don’t need the abundance we have to be happy. And we don’t need to worry about what we have because ultimately everything we have is God’s anyway. Using a children’s book like this one helps them see that yes God does provide.
  2. Another great Berenstain Bears book to read to your children is The Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving Blessings, which shows the bears and your children why we should be thankful. We have so much for which to be thankful, even things we take for granted like our faith, family, and the huge feast waiting for us at the end of our car ride to Gramp’s and Gran’s, just like the bears experienced in The Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving Blessings.
  3. This is not a Thanksgiving book, per se, but I also like The Trouble with Things, also from The Berenstain Bears series. In this book, the Bears are dealing with a typical family issue… the idea that they need “things.” And even more things! Brother Bear wants a Space Grizzlies play set. Sister Bear begs for a Bearbie dream house. Even Papa Bear thinks he needs a new fishing rod! But thanks to Mama Bear’s wisdom the family learns that God offers more than just material things.
  4. Finally, I’ve recently discovered the delightful book I Will Rejoice, which is based on Psalm 118:24. In our house we’ve taught our children that the Bible is the truth and I love having a book that focuses on Psalm 118:24. This book’s simple rhyming and beautiful illustrations reminds children that things like cuddling in mom’s lap is something to be thankful for – and as a Mom, I’m most thankful for those cuddles too!

Join the Conversation

How are you teaching your children gratitude at this time of year and combating the messages in the media to “buy this and buy that”? We’d love to hear your practical tips and advice. Please leave your comments below!