A child’s first word is usually “mama” or “dada.” For my son, his first word was “Thank you.” While he pronounced it “Tay-due,” we knew what he meant. We started calling him “Tay-due” for his nickname. What a polite and thankful child!
But this is the exception. Thankfulness is something that needs to be taught. It’s not something that comes naturally to children. Self-centeredness is one trait that children have in common. They need to be taught to share or to care for others first.
A two year old’s favorite word is “mine.” Our natural inclination is that of self-entitlement. “I deserve this.” “Give me what I want and give it to me now.” Children need to be taught to be thankful. Children need to be reminded when they receive a gift from someone, “What do you say?” One way to teach thankfulness to children is to have them write “thank you” cards to family and friends who give them gifts. One exercise that my parents would have us do on Thanksgiving Day when we growing up was to write a list of things that we were thankful for. It is great that our nation pauses for a day each year to thank God for all his blessings given us throughout the year, but what about the other 364 days of the year?
Teaching thankfulness means that children need to acknowledge that God supplies their every need. Again this doesn’t come naturally. Our natural inclination is to blame God when we don’t have what we want or think we need and to forget to thank God when things are going well. Luther gave parents a useful tool in teaching children to be thankful to God for supplying our needs by writing his explanation to the First Article of the Creed. In this explanation, Luther reminds us of all that we receive as a gift from God: “body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses,” “food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that I need to support this body and life…” Luther’s explanation answers children’s feelings of self-entitlement by explaining, “All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it.” What should our response be? “For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him
What if you don’t “feel” thankful? Jesus teaches us to pray the fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” By saying this prayer, we are acknowledging that “God certainly gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to acknowledge this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Prayers at meal-times and at bed-time are important teaching tools to give thanks. Luther’s morning and evening prayers begin with “I thank You my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son…” At meal time, we return thanks by praying the words of the Psalmist, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1)
Teaching thankfulness to children begins with thankful, believing parents. We use the tools God has given us, His gifts of His Word, the catechism, and prayer. We also model thankfulness to our children by praising God in Sunday worship and spending time with the Word of God and prayer in our daily lives. In these ways, by both word and action, we are “telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord” (Ps 78:4).