5 Ways to Cultivate Grateful Hearts That Last by Kathryn O’Brien

Tyndale Kids

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Ah, the wonder of fall. Crunchy leaves. Pumpkin pie. All of those forgotten fuzzy socks and flannel jammies pulled from the bottoms of dresser drawers. And most glorious of all, our kids, our busy, bustling, blessed kids are asked to turn their hearts and minds to living with thanksgiving.

At least for a few days. All over America, at this time of year, children are presented with activities, assignments, and lessons that center around gratitude. As they learn about the hardships of colonial life, they discover the joy of simple things, such as enough food and a warm bed. They make lists of blessings for which to be grateful. They read books about Plymouth Rock and make turkeys out of clay. They wear Pilgrim hats and reenact friendship feasts, remembering those who faced dire circumstances yet continued to praise God for His provision.

All too quickly, though, the big day comes and goes; and along with our harvest décor, the Thanksgiving focus of our nation, community, and family is put away for another year. To help the thanks keep on giving throughout the year, try these simple tips and activities with kids of any age.

Point out blessings. Invest in a spinning globe or world map. On the first day of every month, let your children take turns spinning the globe or pointing to a place on the map. Then do some research together on that nation or city. What are the people, customs, and culture like? What issues do they face? How can we pray for them? In what ways could we help? Allow your kids to see the many ways they are blessed by being interested in the needs of others.

Model a life of thanks. Be a daily reminder to your children to live gratefully, by living gratefully! At the dinner table, share blessings from the day. Start bedtime prayers with a list of gifts from God. Get in the habit of saying thank you to your kids, your spouse, your friends, and complete strangers for kindnesses big and small. Write thank you notes or e-mails with your children. Bring flowers or treats to neighbors, teachers, coaches, or friends—just to say thanks!

Frame the discussion. Buy or choose a special frame, and set it in a place of honor in your home. Fill the frame with the photo of a person, place, or event that your family loves and appreciates. If there isn’t a photograph readily available, spend some time with your kids drawing and coloring it yourselves! Change the picture on a regular basis, by the month, holiday, or season; and use the frame as a reminder to give thanks for that person or place in their lives.

Give thanks write now. Purchase a journal, or even make one from blank paper bound with pretty ribbon. Title the book, We Give Thanks, and every year, ask family members to jot down the things for which they are most thankful. Let even the smallest children participate by dictating their words to an adult or older sibling. Store the journal with your autumn linens so that each year you can bring out the book, reminiscing about past blessings and adding new blessings for generations to come!

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Create a plateful of grateful. Buy a uniquely colored dinner plate (or decorate an old plate with safe markers), and add it to your set of dishes. Let different family members use the special plate at least once a week. During mealtime, give the honoree encouragement by sharing the ways in which they are a blessing to those around them. Mention their God-given qualities, abilities, and talents that you are most thankful for, and say a special prayer of praise for them.

Hopefully, this Thanksgiving—as the last of the cranberry sauce is gobbled up and the cornucopia is tucked away—we will hang onto gratitude for God’s goodness in our lives . . . and our children’s thankful hearts will remain.


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Looking for books that encourage little ones to live with a grateful heart? Check out Give Thanks by Kathryn O’Brien, part of the Sit for a Bit series from Tyndale.


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Kathryn O’Brien writes books for kids and has a heart for moms. She’s published five children’s picture books, including her latest series (Sit for a Bit, Tyndale) and serves as a contributor for several publications. When she’s not writing or enjoying her day job as a Christian school administrator, Kathryn can usually be found texting her three grown children, hanging on the front porch with her husband, or hiking the canyons near her home in Southern California. To learn more about Kathryn, visit her at her website, www.kathobrien.com.


For more tips from Kathryn O’Brien on how to help your kids think about thankfulness, check out this post!