A couple of decades ago, I attended a workshop on parenting led by Sr. Magdalen, of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, England and the author of “Conversations with Children”. During the Q&A session, a mom and dad expressed their disappointment that their children seemed ungrateful despite all they had done for their children. They asked how they might teach their children to be thankful. Sr. Magdalen’s response was simple and straightforward. She asked the parents if they were thankful. Did they model gratitude and thankfulness for the children to follow. Ultimately, we teach our children by our example. However, we reinforce through stories.
If you visit a bookstore at this time of year, you will find a wide array of books on thankfulness in the children’s section. Unfortunately, these seasonal books only begin to skim the surface of what it means to be thankful to God for all He has done and continues to do for us. The best stories that give us good examples are books like “Little House in the Big Woods” in which thankfulness is part of a bigger picture. Like the pioneers of the time period, the Ingalls live a simple, yet hard life in the woods of Wisconsin. They must grow or hunt for their food and then take that food and turn it into preserves or smoke the meat so that it will last through the winter. At Christmastime, they receive one or two handmade gifts. The children and the parents treasure what they receive because each gift was made and given with love. Each gift they receive is treated with great care to last for a long time. Each meal they eat is borne out of the hard work of the whole family throughout the year. Despite the many hardships they face, there is a joy that comes from the love woven through their lives. Thankfulness is a part of that love.
The other novel, a favorite of mine, is “Little Women”. The love and commitment the March family has for one another is strong and practically unbreakable. The trials they suffer through ultimately strengthen their bond. The girls learn to embrace what they have and to share it with others gladly.
We can teach about the virtues we hope to instill in our children, but ultimately, we must model those virtues on a daily basis as part of our everyday lives. Being thankful is something we do by helping others without being asked, leaving a place better than we found it, sharing what we have with others cheerfully, and loving God and everyone He puts in our path.
Love, in Greek αγαπη – divine or godly love, is the source of the virtues, which includes thankfulness. So, if you are looking for good children’s literature that teaches thankfulness, look for stories where love of family and friends are the core of the story.
By Vas Oldziey, Greek, Christian Studies and art teacher at CSA