As my son exited his school after a long afternoon indoors, he noticed the snow beginning to accumulate on the playing field and his face lit up with excitement. He turned to me and said fervently, “God answered my prayer!”

In that moment, I was amazed and humbled by his gratitude. He felt like he had been given such a gift, and he talked about it all the way to the van!

It’s relatively easy to give praise to God for a snowfall, since He really is the only one that could make such a thing happen. But how easy is it to be grateful in a season that encourages us to be discontented?

I can’t go anywhere in December without strangers asking my children, “What do you want for Christmas?”

Feelings of gratefulness are expected to come after the swath of gifts has been unwrapped, after the impossibly large meal, after we have been given more than we ever needed.

Can we teach our children to be thankful during
the Christmas season, not just afterward?

Although heart change won’t happen in a single Christmas season, I believe it’s possible to raise children who are thankful, even as they await Christmas Day!

A few years ago, we started a tradition in our family that is helping to put ungratefulness in its place.

The December our eldest son was 4, I flipped through the Christmas gift catalogues from World Vision and Compassion, cutting out all the ones that were under $40. I taped them on the wall, and each morning we prayed about which one we would eliminate. By Christmas, he had narrowed it down to one item: a share in a new playground.

Last year, we allowed our boys to pick a new gift each week after lighting the Advent candles. Our musical son was drawn to the radio that could be given through Gospel for Asia, a radio that would allow people in far-flung villages to hear about Christ.

The other boy was attracted to a water filtration system that would help others have access to clean water. For his 6th birthday in March, when asked if he would like to raise money for a gift for someone else, he remembered what he had chosen at Christmas, and asked to help people get clean water and toys. I was surprised and humbled at his loving heart.

Giving to others reminds us of the gifts we have been given.

Giving prepares the heart for gratitude.

Simply admonishing our children to be grateful is a bit like trying to grow a tender shoot in hard, clay soil. Unless our children’s hearts are softened and prepared by God’s compassion and love, gratefulness cannot grow there.

To soften the soil, we must teach and model the discipline of giving. Showing them what others in our world are lacking and enabling them to help fill that gap cultivates that hard, clay soil. As they begin to glimpse God’s heart for the poor, the soil is turned over and made fresh. In that prepared soil can grow the seeds of gratitude and praise.

Then, just as a plant falls to the ground and becomes part of the soil, gratitude nourishes a truly generous spirit.

The discipline of giving prepares the heart for
gratitude,which nourishes true generosity.

Action Steps/Application

If you’d like to let your children help choose gifts, there are many ministries that have a gift catalogue. A few of our favorites are Compassion, Gospel for Asia, and World Vision.

If your children are older, consider having them choose gifts they can pay for with their own money!