Why Raising Thankful Children Matters

Our three-year-old son, Landon, came home from preschool the other day with brown construction paper cut into the shape of feathers and a note for Christi and me.

We were to talk with Landon about what he was thankful for and then write them on the respective feathers. Each child, it turns out, is making a turkey at school and learning what it means to be thankful.

I’m glad the school is teaching him. When we sat down with Landon to learn from him what he is thankful for, he didn’t know what it meant to be “thankful.”


I know he’s only three-years-old, but it was a big lesson for Christi and me.

Teaching our kids good manners is important, but if we don’t teach them the meaning behind those behaviors, they’re unlikely to stick over time.

So how do we teach them the “why” behind saying “thank you?” How do we increase the motivation of our children to grow into “thankful” adults?

We teach our kids to be thankful, by being thankful ourselves.

This may seem like a simple, feel good, even tweetable phrase. But let’s get practical.

Let’s put ourselves in our child’s shoes for a moment.

If we were to ask our kids whether the words grumbler or encourager better described us, what would they say? Throughout any given day, would they hear more complaints or compliments coming from our mouths?

Are we criticizing our spouses? Gossiping about our neighbors? Complaining about the upcoming holidays? Faultfinding toward our kids?

I think we often do this without even realizing our kids are listening.

Preparing dinner with our kids in earshot—rather than thanking Christi for getting the sheets washed and beds made for my parents to visit for Thanksgiving—I nitpick that the kitchen is a mess. Instead of thanking me for working hard for our family, she complains that I got home ten minutes later than I said I was going to.

If you’re as human as we are, you can tell how the rest of the evening is set to unfold.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that scientific research shows to live a happier life the one key question to ask, especially when we’re worried, feeling guilty or stressed is “What am I grateful for?”

Did you know being grateful has the same effect on the brain as the antidepressant Wellbutrin?

Know what Prozac does? It increases serotonin. So does gratitude.

Asking and answering, “What am I grateful for?” especially when we’re ready to complain, makes us happier.

Oh yeah, and if you’re struggling with God’s will for your life, consider that he’s more concerned about who you’re becoming than what you’re doing.

Paul writes, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Corinthians 5:18, ESV).

Doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Here are a few ways we’re going to be happier through the holidays and teach our kids what it means to be thankful. We would love for you to join us.

Between now and Christmas…

1.   Either at dinner or before bed each night, we’re going to describe for our kids what we’re thankful for and ask them what they were thankful for that day.

2.   Christi and I are going to practice becoming more openly thankful toward one another in front of our kids.

3.   We're going to begin each day by sending a short “thank you” email or text message to someone we're thankful for.

4.   Being specific about a thoughtful behavior or gesture, we’re going to focus each day on speaking more compliments than complaints toward our kids.

Remember, our kids do as we do, not as we say.

As Brene Brown writes, “…the question isn’t so much ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is: ‘Are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?’”

Let’s be thankful.

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, and president and co-founder of the Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyHe wakes up each day striving to love others better beginning with his wife, Christi, and their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.