Thanksgiving is upon us, a time for intentionally celebrating everything we have to be grateful for. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to collectively pause and express our thankfulness. Practicing gratefulness is not always easy, and often in our daily lives we lose sight of what we have to be thankful for. Yet what if every day were like Thanksgiving — what if we intentionally put effort into living a thankful lifestyle? The world would be a beautiful place.
Below are five ideas and practices for teaching children about gratitude and helping them to develop a thankful lifestyle that will carry them well into adulthood and positively affect everyone around them.
Create a routine for expressing gratitude.
Many families have a tradition of sharing and expressing gratitude on Thanksgiving day where during a special meal, each person at the table will take turns sharing what they are thankful for. This is a lovely practice that can easily be brought into daily life, which creates space and time for children to pause, think about their blessings and practice expressing gratitude. Whether practiced before each bed time, during car rides or at a family meal, making a habit of verbalizing gratitude will help cultivate a mindset and lifestyle centered around thankfulness.
Oftentimes well meaning parents will guilt their children into being thankful by saying something like, “there are starving children in the world who would be so lucky to have what you do.” Because this phrasing is centered around comparison, it’s not teaching children to be thankful but can instead cause them to feel guilty or indifferent and aloof. Instead, try educating your children on how some people don’t have things (toys, clothes, food) that you do and that it’s important to allow thankfulness to dictate your actions.
Make a tradition of giving and volunteering.
Though thankfulness is most often thought of as an emotion or state of mind, it is best taught and practiced when put into action. There are so many ways, big and small, that children and families can participate in giving of time, money, or resources. From buying and donating supplies for a Christmas food drive to volunteering at a homeless shelter, there are so many opportunities for creating teaching moments and showing children how to give back to the world.
Explain the value of things.
As the holidays are a big time for giving and receiving gifts, the value of special presents and even simple everyday things can get lost. Though it would not be the best idea to monetize everything, teaching kids the value of something will help them to be grateful for it. For example, when Grandma gives your child a handmade sweater, spend time examining its intricate stitches and explain to them that she spent hours and days knitting it by hand. Or in everyday life, explaining where something like a glass of milk comes from will help children learn to appreciate the little things as well. Children don’t often realize that before the glass of milk arrives in front of them that first the farmer had to raise the cow, and then he had to wake up early to milk the cow, and then the milk had to be packaged and then driven to the store, where you had to go and buy it. Explaining something’s value will help children appreciate its worth and be grateful for receiving it.
Be a grateful parent.
Model gratitude for your children, and they will surely adopt a lifestyle of thankfulness. Verbalize your gratitude frequently, over use “thank you,” intentionally put your thankfulness into action, and don’t forget to express to your children how truly grateful you are for them.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at CMASAS to you and yours. We are so thankful for all of you.