How to teach your children to be grateful
April 6th was the first day that it finally felt like spring. The sun was out and the weather was a balmy 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees F for my American friends). I could have gone biking with friends, cleaned the garage or gone for a walk but I found myself in the kitchen baking pies and muffins. Why? The next day was the first Monday of the month, which meant that we would be having a staff meeting after school and I had offered to bake for my teachers, all 56 of them. Since October my entire staff had been working hard to prepare our students for a high stakes literacy test, a graduation requirement in the Ontario education system. Every teacher was involved in one way or another; teachers stepped out of their comfort zones, incorporated the test components into their curriculum, and encouraged their students. I was overwhelmed by their extra effort and team spirit. To express my gratitude, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work on the pies.
It wasn’t long before Simon and Sophie were in the kitchen asking what I doing and whether we all could go out to play. I explained to them that I really needed to bake and that I couldn’t go out to play today. I expected them to leave at this point, but when I turned around to get the apple peeler, both were still standing there. “Dad, we want to help you,” Simon said. I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted their help at that point, so I asked whether they wanted to go outside with their mother. I got an emphatic “no”. So I asked why they wanted to help. Sophie replied, “It is better to give than to receive.” How can I refuse a child who quotes Acts 20:35 to her father (without even knowing it)?
The work that Simon, Sophie and I did that beautiful spring day reflected Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” How many times have you received something from a family member, friend or colleague that truly went above and beyond? Of course, we say thank you to show our gratitude. In those circumstances, we often look to reciprocate their kindness and thoughtfulness. Yet how often do we actually do the same for others around us? In my life, I realize that there are some people from whom I have withheld goodness due to oversight, inconvenience or greed. Proverbs 3:27 reminds us that if it is in our power to do good for people, we should seek to do so. Both Simon and Sophie understood this instruction without having to have it explained to them. (Even tonight, before I wrote this blog entry, Simon gave up his play time before bed to help me mop the floor in the kitchen. I didn’t ask for help and he definitely had a choice. Yet it was in his power to do good and he did so.)
So what have I learned about how to teach Simon and Sophie to be grateful? First, I need to demonstrate to them that I am grateful for what they and others do for me on a regular basis. By showing my children that this is important to me, they will be more likely to follow my example. Second, I need to provide opportunities for my children to express their gratitude to others. Teaching them to recognize when people are treating them with kindness and thoughtfulness is the first step. The next step is to help them to see how they can express their gratitude back to others. As a father, I need to coach them through this process to that I can instil the quality of gratefulness in their character, a trait that will serve them and God’s kingdom well.