Grateful sign being held up
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Cultivating a Spirit of Gratefulness

Father-Daughter dance! These three words have haunted me for some time. Ever since my wife and I had daughters, she’s teased me about the day I would be asked to attend a father-daughter dance. The problem is quite simple: I can’t dance. Not at all! God must have misplaced the dance and rhythm genes when He created me. My wife and I recently went to see the play Footloose. There is a scene in which the main character Ren is teaching his “hick” friend Willard to dance. Basically Willard looked like an uncoordinated freak with two left feet. To put my dancing ability into perspective, my wife called me “Willard.”

Well the day finally arrived when my 7-year old daughter, Taylor, asked me to attend her Girl Scout troop’s annual father-daughter dance. Panic and images of humiliation raced throughout my body. But I felt privileged to have been asked. I was definitely going!

After some last minute “choreography” advice from my wife, Taylor and I headed out for the dance dressed in our most fancy clothes. When we arrived, I was somewhat confused why the other dads weren’t dancing. Taylor looked at me with her big green eyes and asked me to dance. Taking a deep breath, we strolled onto the dance floor and began to dance (if that’s what you called our unsynchronized movement). To my surprise, however, as I looked around the dance floor, it was like watching an entire room full of Willards. Everyone was horrible. It was awesome. I didn’t look like a freak after all; I simply blended in with the rest of the uncoordinated freaks.

What stands out most about the dance, however, was something that Taylor said as we were leaving. Walking towards the car, suddenly Taylor pulled on my shirt-sleeve, looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you, daddy…You’re the best!” It wasn’t a cordial, “because I have to” type of thank you either. It was a deep, heartfelt expression of gratitude from my daughter. You know, the kind of thankfulness that leaves a rather large lump in your throat. I will never forget that evening.

Taylor will probably never realize how much her appreciation meant to me. It also made me think about how gratitude, appreciation and thankfulness, for the most part, seem to be missing from our society. As a father, I believe one of the best gifts we can give our children is a spirit of gratefulness. In order to cultivate this type of character trait, I encourage you to take three simple steps.

Increase Awareness of Appreciation

First, point out the positive efforts that others make in our society. The fireman or police officer who risks his own life to protect us. The garbage collector who keeps our home clean. The public official who diligently serves to better our community. The pastor who faithfully teaches us about God. Missionaries who leave the comforts of our country to spread the gospel. And so on.

Model Thankfulness for Your Child

Second, model thanking others for what they do. Let your kids hear you telling your wife what a wonderful meal she cooked. Let them hear you thank the motorist who lets you in front. I’ll never forget the morning my father had me wait with him so we could thank our garbage collector. I was about 10-years old when he explained that garbage collecting was a very dangerous profession. He said, “Greg, do you think anyone ever thanks them for their hard work?” You should have seen the look on their faces when a father and his young son stood in the cold dark of the early morning to say thanks and to shake their hands.

Encourage Giving

Third, teach your children to give back. Gratitude and appreciation is cultivated when your kids get the opportunity to place the church offering in the plate Sunday morning. As a family, find a volunteer activity you can do together. Take presents to an underprivileged family during Christmas or a birthday celebration.

By taking these three steps, you will be cultivating in your children one of the best things you can provide: a thankful heart. Jean Baptiste Massieu said it best through these words, “Gratitude is the memory of the heart.”

Additional Ways to Cultivate Appreciation

  1. During the family prayer, thank God for specific blessings He has provided.
  2. Learn to share your benefits rather than your burdens.
  3. Point out “good deeds” that your child can do. Donate a toy for the needy for example.
  4. Before bed, share several things that you noticed that your child did that were positive.
  5. For younger children, encourage them to give thanks after someone does something nice.
  6. Help your child write “thank you” cards or notes.
  7. Be content with the things you have.
Greg Smalley, PsyD
Website | + posts

Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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