God is good, praise Him. Thank Him.
In our early childhood years we begin to develop a sense of awareness. In the beginning it is all about us, and what others can and must do for us. We are “me” centric. When the “me” does not get what it needs or wants…watch out! Our parents and other caregivers serve us selflessly, all the essentials; food, shelter, and love. The only expectation they have, the only immediate sense of thankfulness, outward sign of appreciation they can hope for is for our infant selves to stop crying.
At some point the “me” gives way to we and a child begins to relate its sense of self with others. Caregivers begin to teach please, thank you, use gentle touches, and do not hurt your friends. A two year old will intentionally play around with this concept..testing their limits as they grasp the cause and effect relationship between themselves and others. Take biting for example.
Child thinks, “When I bite Darren, he screams.” Darren gets bitten and proceeds to scream. There is very little empathy, if any, when Darren screams. Caregivers may respond with, “That’s not nice, we don’t bite, biting hurts. You hurt Darren” Meanwhile the two year old is thinking, “Hurt? I hurt. Hurt is not good for me. What’s this got to do with Darren?”
In time with proper guidance a young child develops empathy and understands that the hurt and the discomfort that they feel is also experienced by others. In time they show compassion.
It is the same with gratitude. Just as we teach our children compassion and empathy we teach them gratitude. In the beginning it comes in the form of manners with please and thank you. It is learned through celebrations. We have young children make cards for Mother’s Day and Father’s day, birthdays and Christmas. Through these practices they begin to develop a sense of showing appreciation for others.
What about God? How do you teach a child to be grateful for God?
Parents are the first educators of children. Be the best example and show as well as tell your children of your appreciation of God.
Prayers in the morning, at meal times, and at night reinforce there is a God and he loves us initiating a relationship with God. Prayer can start as early as infancy. Consistent prayer life as a child establishes a routine of interacting with God on a regular basis, even when the caregiver is not present. Children can pray and praise through songs as well as dance. My favorite is the Butterfly Song.
We teach our children to say thank you to us. Be sure to teach them to thank God as well. Throughout the day point out and verbally thank God for all the little things, the big things, and the stuff in between.
“Oh wow! Look at that butterfly! See the many colors in its wings! Thank you God for giving us the butterfly.”
Giving thanks for God’s creations is a great way to start.
Creations for the Creator
We present offerings to God at Mass. Children do not need to wait until they reach the sacramental age of Communion to give to God. Have your child create personal artwork and present it to God at the family altar. This helps to reinforce the importance of God in the family.
Thank You Jars
Our family altar has a jar for prayers and a jar for blessings. This is a wonderful way to reinforce prayer and thanksgiving in any home with children. Write down recent blessings and drop them in the jar while saying, thank you, Lord. Try to do it at least once a day and watch as your blessings visibly grow. This activity is great for developing pre-reading and writing skills, in addition young children can count their blessings!
Can you add to my list? Share some ways you help children learn how to appreciate God in the comments.