As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been diving into Scripture to prepare my heart for a season of thankfulness. I wish gratitude was something that came naturally to me, but it rarely feels that way.
One definition of gratitude I recently read was, “readiness to show appreciation for.” This definition suggests that gratitude is something I can prepare myself for, to get ready to show appreciation for the many blessings around me.
Regularly reading God’s Word helps. James 1:17 reminds me “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father …”
I want my kids to develop hearts of gratitude, too. And at this stage of life, I want to teach them to be thankful for one of the best gifts God has given them—each other. Maybe this is because nothing saps my joy like their arguing. Or maybe it’s because, now that I’m older, I can see what a blessing it was to grow up with siblings.
Siblings are a blessing
The majority of my childhood memories feature me alongside my two older brothers—backyard games of tag, the occasional beheaded Barbie, Christmas stockings emptied on my brothers’ bedroom floor to give our parents an extra 20 minutes of sleep, riding bikes down a dirt road, and driving our mom crazy during the summers.
But to be real, there were also plenty of yelling matches, pulled hair, threats of “I’m telling Mom,” and for one of my brothers, a black eye. Being thankful for your siblings is often something that happens as you get older. And, sadly, I have friends who never speak to their siblings at all.
I don’t want that for my kids, so one of my most common prayers for my children is for them to grow closer together as they grow under our roof. Long after my husband and I are gone, I want our kids to still have each other.
Nothing I say or do can guarantee my children will see each other as a blessing rather than a burden. But here are 10 things I am implementing to plant the seeds of gratitude.
1. Don’t get involved in every sibling squabble.
This one is especially hard for me, but taking sides just leads to “Mom/Dad likes you best.” Kids will harbor resentment toward the seemingly favored sibling, even into adulthood.
Stay out of it if you can. Encourage them to work together toward a resolution, or have them walk away until emotions calm.
2. Let them serve each other.
It’s hard to be thankful for others if you are self-focused. So I want them to learn how to help each other. When my hands are full preparing dinner, I let my 12-year-old help her little brother with his homework. My son is expected to open the door for his sister, even if his head barely comes above the door knob. Little things matter.
3. Have them come up with reasons they admire their sibling.
If my kids are particularly grumpy, I have them list things they are grateful for. During the busyness of the school year, especially, my kids are tired and tend to take it out on each other.
Just last night, my son was rude to his sister. I asked him to come up with three things he likes about her. After telling us she’s nice, plays with him after she finishes her homework, and plays school with him, he offered an unprompted apology to his big sis.
4. Make time for each child individually.
This goes back to what I mentioned about favoritism in point number one. My kids are six years apart. My oldest remembers what it felt like to have mom and dad all to herself, and some days, she misses that.
To combat feelings of jealousy, I squeeze in a few minutes of alone time with each kid every day. They get to express any excitement or worry surrounding their day, or we just snuggle and read a book. Whatever we do, I want them to know I see them and love them as an individual.
5. Encourage family time.
Go on road trips together (and take the DVD players/tablets away for at least part of the trip), go for family hikes and picnics. Whatever you do, spending time together builds memories and reinforces that you are a family unit.
6. Find ways for them to work together.
Whether it’s raking leaves or planning a birthday present for Dad, encourage your kids to work together on projects. Have them brainstorm ways your family can serve your community together, and put a plan into action.
7. Encourage respect
Any good relationship has a healthy dose of respect. One way my kids show each other respect is to not enter each other’s room without permission. I encourage sharing, but they are not allowed to take something without asking first. It shows respect for the other person and their belongings.
8. Teach healthy communication habits.
Although I really do try to stay out of their arguments, I also make sure they follow certain rules when one comes up: no name calling, no yelling, and listen to the other person’s point of view. If they can’t follow these basic rules, they need to take a moment to walk away and come back when they cool off.
9. Teach them to have each other’s backs.
Once my children are grown, I want them to know they can rely on each other. If my son has a hard day at school, his sister will empathize with him and offer advice. When the situation has been reversed, my son has made his sister a “feel better” picture to let her know he cares.
On days when someone does fantastic at school or at home, we all praise and celebrate that person. As a family, we’re here for each other through the good and bad.
10. Model what a healthy sibling relationship looks like.
If you were blessed with great siblings, let your kids know that. Share your favorite moments with your siblings from childhood. Laugh at how uncool you all really were. My kids love hearing childhood stories about Mom and Dad. My daughter has even asked my husband’s sister to dish out on her dad as a kid.
There will still be days my kids fight, shove each other, yell, and drive me completely insane. It’s what siblings do.
But even on the most trying days, I’m thankful I’m their mom. I’m thankful we all have each other. And maybe one day, they’ll be thankful they have each other, too.
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