God is great. God is good. And we thank him for our food. By his hands, we are fed. Thank you, Lord, for daily bread.
It’s a simple blessing, a prayer of thankfulness we teach our children to recite before eating food. Many children have memorized this blessing or maybe one that is similar. But do children really know why they say these words? Are children truly thankful for what they are about to eat? Do they really know what it means to be thankful?
Depending upon a child’s age, he or she may or may not know the meaning behind the words of a meal’s blessing. But as parents, family members and teachers, it is up to us to not only teach our children why we should be thankful for our food but also why we should be thankful for the many blessings God has bestowed upon us.
A great place to begin teaching children about thankfulness is through the use of proper manners. “Please” and “thank you” can be taught as early as the infant stages, when a child is non-verbal, through the use of sign language.
And one does not have to be certified in ASL (American Sign Language) to teach a child how to sign.
Just visit Amazon.com, your local library or book store to find books and videos that will help teach a child sign language. Baby Einstein’s My First Signs and Signing Time, hosted by Emilie Brown and Rachel de Azevedo Coleman, are popular DVDs among parents and teachers.
Some collections include books and sign language flash cards, which are great for teachers to use in a classroom with infants and toddlers and for mothers to use with children at home.
Once a child begins saying words, reiterate the importance of using manners by reminding children when to say, “please” and “thank you.”
Most importantly, remember to lead by example. Children imitate adults, especially parents. They listen to what we say and they watch what we are doing. So if we want to teach children how to be gracious and polite to others, then it’s important that we also use our manners and treat those around us with respect.
Recognize a child’s accomplishments
Another great way to teach a child appreciation and thankfulness is to recognize a child’s accomplishments.
Francesca Coniglio, a pre-school teacher at Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach, suggests praising a child from the time he takes his first steps to the first “drawing of beautiful scribble.”
“It all creates self-worth,” Coniglio says, “and makes a child feel valued and appreciated.”
No accomplishment is too small or too big.
Recognizing great effort will in turn make the child thankful, which will help him or her learn how to appreciate the little, yet important things in life.
Teach children how to pray
One can also teach thankfulness through prayer. Many parents tend to pray with children at bedtime, praying for family members and friends, whether they are sick or well.
But it’s also important for parents and teachers to encourage children to not only focus on asking God for help or healing but to also thank God for their many blessings.
One suggestion might be to pick one or two items a night to be thankful for and then use prayer time as a teaching moment.
For example, you might say, “Let’s thank God for the bed we are sleeping in every night because we know there are some people who do not have a warm place to sleep.” This can lead to a great discussion after prayer, helping children to begin thinking about the many blessings they are given on a daily basis.
Prayer time at night is a great time for teaching, but have you ever thought how a blessing before a meal provides the perfect teaching moment as well? You might say before a meal’s blessing, “Let’s thank God for the food we eat every day because we know there are many hungry children and families all over this world who don’t get to eat food whenever they want it.”
Get children involved in outreach programs
Children can also learn thankfulness by reaching out to others in need.
It’s important for children to learn how to be givers and not takers. They should learn to be generous with their belongings, and with their time.
Of course, parents want to protect their children. And some may even try to shelter their children from the real world by not exposing them to poverty or circumstances that may make them feel uncomfortable. But when the needs of others are brought to a child’s attention, a child becomes more aware of his or her many blessings.
“It’s easier to count your blessings when you see what others don’t have,” Coniglio says.
And Coniglio speaks from experience. Her parents, the owners of E.R. Bradley’s Saloon in West Palm Beach, host annual holiday breakfasts for migrant children attending Hope Rural School in Indiantown.
“I remember asking (my mom) one of the times we went and helped why we were always giving the children toothbrushes in their Christmas presents or Easter baskets,” Coniglio recalls.
When her mother replied, “Because they can’t afford to buy a toothbrush every time they need a new one,” Coniglio said that she fully understood the depth of what her parents were doing for these children. And she was proud to be a part of it.
There are many opportunities, near and far, for children of any age to give to others.
Children can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless with church or school groups. Or they can do something as simple as make a card for a sick family member or an elderly member in the church community.
Try sifting through old toys with your child and encourage him or her to give toys no longer played with to other children, locally or in other countries, who may not have toys.
Pam Newsome, mother of two young boys and grant coordinator at Urban Youth Impact, a West Palm Beach organization that exists to love, equip and empower inner-city youth and their parents , says that it is important never to set up an “us” versus “them” mindset when teaching children about giving to others.
“We do not let our kids think they are Superman and saving the day by bringing a toy for a poor inner-city child,” Newsome says.
“But rather,” she continues, “that God has blessed us with so much and since we are just taking care of his stuff while we are here on earth that the best choice is to give some of that stuff away.”
Whether a child gives of his or her time through “Operation Christmas Child shoe box packing, giving unwanted toys to Cuba for Christ, buying school supplies, a toy or Thanksgiving provisions for an Urban Youth Impact family,” Newsome says, children must be taught the importance of “giving out of the abundance that God has blessed us with: our time, our talents and our treasures.”
Chrissie Ferguson is the mother of three young boys. She is also a freelance writer, former teacher and the director of children’s ministries at the Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach. Read her mom blog at soundoflittlefeet.blogspot.com