As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s typical to start thinking about how to help the children in our care grow in gratitude. Young children are taught to say “please” and “thank you” fairly early, but if we want to move beyond good manners into cultivating a life of thanksgiving, children’s ministers can take a few intentional steps:
- Set a thankful example: This simple reminder is one that often gets forgotten. Children are watching the adults in their lives so very closely. The efforts we make to teach any spiritual discipline are for nothing if we don’t demonstrate what it looks like in our everyday practice. This can include intentionally using gratitude words and phrases in front of the kids that help demonstrate true thanksgiving. For instance:
“Wow, thank you, Taylor—I noticed that you remembered my favorite color. I appreciate that you are so thoughtful!”
“Thanks, Sam—I feel so happy when you hold the door open for your friends. I’m grateful that you’re in my class!”
- Plan regular opportunities for gratitude: A lifestyle of gratitude doesn’t just develop by writing a list of things kids are thankful for once a year as a class project. Instead, we must carefully weave opportunities for gratefulness throughout the year. Whether meeting in person or virtually, there are many ways you can encourage reflection on our blessings, including:
Ongoing service projects, including crafts meant to tell others thank you (the connection between serving others and gratitude is one of God’s beautiful gifts). "
Including conversations about gratitude within Bible lessons. For example: What do you think Noah was grateful for? How do you think the woman at the well felt when Jesus was so kind to her? What do you think the injured man said to the Good Samaritan that day?
Set aside space each time you meet to talk about things the class is grateful for. Resist the temptation to hurry through answers like “My dog” or “My mom” and really allow time for true gratitude—engage thought by asking questions: “Why are you grateful for your dog?” “What if I don’t have a dog? Can I still be grateful? Why?”
- Avoid Pitfalls: One trap that many in ministry fall into is believing that teaching gratitude “in all circumstances” means that we must quickly move children from hard feelings (like grief, anger, sadness, frustration) into being happy and thankful. This “toxic positivity” habit can have the opposite effect from what we intend. Letting children have room for lament is not only acceptable; it’s critical. Though finding things to be grateful for in the midst of hard times is an important Biblical practice, be careful not to force it. Remember, there’s a time for everything and your support may be more of a lesson in gratitude than you think.