Americans often bemoan how today’s children seem to have trouble thinking of others and appreciating their many blessings. The upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons are a wonderful time to reflect on what we are thankful for, as well as help our children adopt an attitude of gratitude. Numerous studies have shown that feelings of gratitude help adults and children to be happier and healthier. Here are some ideas for fostering gratitude in ourselves and our loved ones:
Model Gratitude in Word and in Action- As I’ve often mentioned, parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Our kids are watching what we say and do and learning from it. If we want our children to have an attitude of gratitude, we need to strive for an attitude of gratitude, and show them what that looks like. This can be as simple as regularly sharing with your kids what you are thankful for, acknowledging a thoughtful act your child performed, or making a point to sincerely thank and show gratitude to others when you are out in the world.
Have a Family Mealtime or Bedtime Gratitude Ritual- Take advantage of nightly routines to foster an attitude of gratitude in your family. Before or after eating dinner together, go around the table and have each family member share something they are thankful for in their lives. Or, invite each family member to share something they are thankful for before everyone goes to bed. Blessings before family meals, or nightly prayers are also good times to tie in gratitude rituals.
Encourage Your Children to Start a Gratitude Journal- Encourage your child to write in a journal five things they are grateful for on at least a weekly basis. You might invite them at dinner to share some of the things they wrote in their gratitude journal with the family. If you have younger children who aren’t quite ready to write yet, encourage them instead to draw a picture of one or two things for which they are thankful.
Volunteer or Give to Others as a Family- You might make it a holiday tradition to volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen or local food bank, or work together to build care packages for those serving overseas. Another idea would be to have your children donate toys they don’t play with anymore and clothes they don’t wear or can no longer fit in. Afterwards, discuss as a family what the experience meant to everyone.
The Power of Thank You Notes- Foster an attitude of gratitude in your kids by encouraging them to show their appreciation to others. Talk with your kids about the people they are thankful for in their lives, and encourage them to write and deliver a few thank you notes to those people, whether it’s their siblings, teachers, bus driver, after school counselor, etc. Along with their thank you note, they could even bake and give them cookies or other treats.
Help Your Child See the Thought Behind the Gift- When your child receives a gift of any kind, make it a point to remind them of the thoughtfulness that went into the gift, and encourage them to acknowledge the effort on the part of the gift giver.
Christmas List Reversed- Encourage your child to brainstorm and make a list of the gifts they want to give others. These gifts aren’t necessarily intended to have a price tag, as they should mostly be handmade items or thoughtful acts.
Find the Positive in a Bad Situation- Another way to help children develop an attitude of gratitude is to model positivity in difficult situations. For example, if it rains during a family outing and your child complains, remind them that at least you are all able to spend time together as a family.
Earning Money for Gifts- Give your child opportunities to earn a bit of extra money in the weeks ahead. They can use the money to buy some of the things they want. This will help them appreciate what they have more.
Start a Family Blessings Jar- An easy way for all of us to focus on what we are thankful for is to create a Blessings Jar. Set out a clear jar with scraps of paper and a pen beside it, and write “Blessings” on the jar. Encourage all members of your family to write down things they are thankful for, fold the paper, and put it in the jar. Together as a family, periodically empty the jar and read aloud the blessings in the jar and talk about them.
Fostering an attitude of gratitude in your children is a gift that can help them think of others and feel happier and healthier. Now is a great time to have a family meeting to share these ideas and brainstorm others. As a family, you might choose a couple to focus on, especially during the rest of this year.