One of the “biggies” as a mom with young kids is the challenge of cultivating thankfulness in the hearts of my children.

I feel like I have two really big hurdles to overcome as I endeavor to do this:

  1. The natural, selfish disposition of humanity that is alive and well in the hearts of my kids!
  2. The indulgent culture around us that exploits our natural inclination toward entitlement and greed.

Thanksgiving season is upon us, and obviously most of us are more aware of gratitude (or the lack thereof!) at this time of year than any other time. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share a few thoughts on cultivating gratitude in our children.

Today, I want to talk about teaching toddlers to say “thank you.”

This simple habit alone does not guarantee that our children will grow up with a thankful attitude. But, it IS a great place to start! When I was a very young mom with two small children, it bothered me that my kids were so given to selfishness. Words like “mine” and “no” so easily flew out of their little mouths!

Although they are necessary dimensions of every Biblical home, loving correction and discipline are not our primary agents of change. A positive example plus the power of emulation equals good habit formation in our little ones!

From the time our kids were very small, my husband and I began to model the types of speech we wanted them to mimic. Since we want our children to demonstrate good manners and thankful speech, we began to say “thank you” A LOT.

Every time I handed an object to my baby or toddler, I would say, “Thank you, Mama.”

When an older sibling did something nice for me, or for one of my little ones, I would say, “Thank you, Sissy,” or “Thank you, Bubby.”

I was trying to model the kind of speech I wanted to hear coming out of my children’s mouths. By the time my two-year olds began to form small sentences, “thank you” (in various forms!) was popping out of their little mouths.

These days, it’s very common to hear our two-year old little boy saying “thank you” or “you’re welcome” throughout the day. His older siblings do the same, and have for years.

I noticed that my two oldest children were slower to develop this habit, simply because I didn’t model it for them as consistently as I did for their younger brothers.

The power of emulation is still effective, though! The more I model gracious speech to my children, instead of simply correcting them when they forget to say “thank you,” the more I hear them developing habits of thankful speech in their every day vocabulary.

As I previously stated, teaching a child to say “thank you” doesn’t necessarily indicate that his heart has learned gratefulness, but it’s still a fantastic starting place. And thankful speech will set your children apart from the average kid on the playground!

Next time, we’ll talk about a few practical ways to help children develop thankful hearts in the midst of an entitlement culture.

If you’re looking for a few fun resources to encourage your children in the habit of saying “thank you,” I hope you’ll check out these books from Rainbow Resource: