Getting back to school is a great time to develop some new family habits. As a dad, I always loved using September as a time to refocus my parenting priorities and core values to reset the never ending challenge of “getting it right” with my four kids.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about praying for your kids. Last month we expanded on one of those prayers, and I want to do the same again here.
I wrote, “Pray that your children will develop a thankful heart.” That’s so important for many reasons, but let me focus on this one: There’s an epidemic of clinically depressed youth these days, even among Christian boys and girls, which sometimes ends in the tragedy of suicide. One of the best ways I can think of to help prevent that is to develop in our kids an attitude of gratitude.
I saw the story of a young man from a good Christian home who tried to commit suicide at age 15 (fortunately his plan was thwarted). What drove him to do it? He felt worthless. He felt as if he was always messing up. He felt no one could love him, even when his family told him repeatedly that they did love him—he just couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t see anything of value in his life, any reason to keep going. He certainly didn’t feel he had anything to be thankful for. It even happens in good homes with good parents doing their dead level best!
You can see how a young man stewing in such thoughts might end up with self-destructive ideas. Sadly, such thoughts are not uncommon in young people who have made some bad choices, fallen in with bad friends, struggled in school, or been bullied in person or on social media. One of the tragedies of Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. is that kids are developing more anxiety and depression over “trying to keep up”, comparison, factions and jealousy than I’ve ever seen before. Parents who aimlessly give their kids social media friendly phones without filters, supervision, boundaries, continual counseling and oversight are asking for trouble with porn, addiction and anxiety! With hardly any exception, teenagers at K-2 are thrilled to give up their phones for weeks at a time to unwind and unplug.
Is a habitually thankful child likely to feel worthless? Unlovable and unloved? Unworthy? Without purpose or hope? No, chances are that child will feel loved and valued.
After 45 years of counseling teens, I can assure you that grateful kids are way more likely to be happy and fulfilled than entitled kids. So, how do we help our kids become thankful and hope-filled?
First, as with any behavior or attitude we want to see in our children, we need to demonstrate it ourselves. As you’ve probably heard before, faith and faith-based behaviors are more caught than taught. So we need to ask, do we notice and give thanks to God for the daily blessings in our own lives? “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). A new study in Time Magazine repeats the age-old truth once again…“thankful people are happy people.”
Second, we can start a family practice of reviewing things to be thankful for each day at dinner or bedtime. Did you get a compliment at work, Mom or Dad? Did a child do well on a test she was worried about? The “little blessings” each day are literally endless! Identify as many as you can each day as you pray with your kids!!!
Third, let’s revive the forgotten art of writing thank-you notes. Let’s express written thanks ourselves, and let’s teach our kids to do the same—for gifts, of course, but also for acts of kindness or words of encouragement. When we give or receive written thanks, it warms our hearts and renews our sense that there’s still a lot of good in the world. Let’s, again, set an example by writing such notes to our own children when they’re extra helpful around the house, when one helps the other with homework, and so on.
Finally, in our family devotions, bedtime conversations, or when we’re just going somewhere in the car, let’s remind our kids of the many scriptures that speak of God’s love and grace toward us. Romans 8:38-39 is one of my favorite passages: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Such truths are the foundation of our faith, the bedrock of our hope. No matter what we’ve said and done or what others have said about us, we are loved and cherished by the God of the universe. If we hang on to such truths, giving thanks to Him who loves us so much, we’ll know we have worth and hope even in life’s darkest moments.
Here at Kanakuk, we want to instill in the children who come to us every summer the truth of how much God loves and values them. Their hearts glow and their faces shine when they understand His love and give Him thanks for His grace.
At the end of their kamp terms, they go home more alive than ever before. Then you, moms and dads, have the privilege of fueling those fires of faith and gratitude every day.