Strategies for Teaching Contentment

The gift shop was closed. We had spent a fun day at an exotic animal farm bed and breakfast in central Kansas (I know, it's an odd place for exotic animals). We had fed giraffes, petted kangaroos, heard a macaw say hello and ridden a camel. But all of that enjoyment was sucked away because the gift shop was closed.

My girls really wanted T-shirts to take home with them, and had the gift shop been open, we probably would have gotten them each one. But it wasn't. It was closed, and it wasn't going to open before we left. And our joy and contentment was gone.

It could have been a teachable moment. Yep, it could have been. But after wandering around in 100-degree heat for an hour and knowing that we still had six hours together in the car ahead of us, this mommy missed the teachable moment and went for the grumpy one. I essentially told my kids to "get over it."

Funny how we're talking about contentment this week, and I missed a perfect opportunity to teach my kids about being content. All they took away from that exchange was "we didn't get we wanted and mom's in a bad mood."

So, in our better moments as parents, how do we teach our kids to be content -- with who God made them to be, with the stuff they have and with the circumstances in their lives?

It starts with us. You've probably noticed that most of the posts about contentment this week haven't included a lot about teaching your kids to be content. That's because we have to learn contentment before we can teach it to our kids. This is one of those things that is more often caught than taught. So, if contentment is a struggle for you (and I think it is for most of us), now is the time to begin working on it. As you teach your kids, be honest with them about your struggles with being content. Knowing that you struggle will help your kids to know how difficult it is and make them more willing to open up about their struggles.

Give your kids a broader view. Help your kids understand that not everyone in the world lives like they do. Get them serving those who are less fortunate in your community. Work at a food pantry, organize a book drive or help out an after-school program. Our kids need to see people in need to understand what "having enough" really means.

Cultivate thankful hearts. Make thankfulness second nature. Ask your kids what they're thankful for on a regular basis. Keep a thankfulness journal or bulletin board, where everyone writes down the things they are thankful for. When your kids get the "gimmes" or have hearts full of discontent, have them make a list of the things for which they are thankful. There's no room for discontent in a heart full of thankfulness.

Have a contentment code word. Create a "code" word with your kids that you can use to remind each other to be content. Let your kids use it to remind you not to grumble, and you use it to remind them to be content with what they have. Make it something fun and appropriate that only you will know.

Memorize Philippians 4:8 as a family. Talk about the fact that contentment is something we can learn with God's help. Remind your kids that when they feel discontent, they need to ask God to help them learn to be content no matter the circumstances.

We can all use help learning to be content. Use teaching your kids about contentment as an opportunity for you to learn contentment as well. When we support each other as a family, our entire family grows together. Put contentment on at the top of the list of things to learn together.