Raising Grateful Kids All Year Long

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Sandwiched between the candy gobbling of October and the gifts galore of December, November is the month of giving thanks and is a great time for families to stop and reflect on how lucky they are. Along with traditional Thanksgiving activities, this month is a great time to start some family gratitude practices that you can continue all year long. Today we’ll be discussing ideas to help your children express their gratitude on Turkey Day and every other day of the year.

Ideas for giving thanks in November:

Make a Gratitude Tree. Start with a a large piece of craft paper and draw a tree trunk. Then ask the kids to paint or color it in brown. Trace the kids’ hands several times on orange, red and yellow construction paper.  Tape the trunk to a wall and keep the stack of “hand leaves” in a pretty dish nearby.

Each day ask your kids to think of something they’re thankful for, write it on a leaf and tape it to the tree trunk. I especially like the idea of doing this on a wall in the dining room so that you’ll have a gratitude tree full of leaves as part of your decor for Thanksgiving dinner.

Go Grocery Shopping for a Family in Need.Do a quick web search to locate local charities that collect Thanksgiving dinner ingredients for families in need.  Get their list of recommended items and designate a weekend day for the entire family to go grocery shopping together.

Many stores now offer pre-made bags to donate right at the check-out line. While this is convenient, the larger the role they play in the act of giving, the bigger the impact it will have on your kids. If you can find a charity where you deliver the groceries yourself, that’s even better.

Ideas for giving thanks on Thanksgiving:

Volunteer at a Local Soup Kitchen. Move your family’s Thanksgiving meal a few hours earlier or later and schedule in some time to serve together at a local soup kitchen. Making this an annual tradition is a wonderful way to drive home the spirit of the holiday. Of course, you can always volunteer sometime during the week of Thanksgiving too if it just doesn’t work to go on the actual day.

Express Your Thankfulness for the Ones You Love. Set kids up with a digital camera or smart phone and ask them to take pictures of themselves with their loved ones while you’re roasting the turkey. Print the photos in a 5 x 7 size and ask the kids to write a short note on the back explaining why they’re grateful for that person.  Family members, especially those that don’t live nearby, will cherish the keepsake.

Ideas for giving thanks all year long:

Volunteer Together. Pick a regular time, maybe one Saturday a month, and volunteer together as a family.  Let each family member take a turn picking a charity that means something to them.  One child may want to spend a day helping to clean up their favorite park while another might want to read books to nursing home residents.  Doing these activities as a family not only teaches altruism, it also shows your children that you care about what they care about.

Start a Gratitude Practice. A regular gratitude practice is a wonderful habit to instill in your children.  In fact, studies have shown that people who feel gratitude on a daily basis are happier in general.  There are a number of ways to go about this, including:

  • Keep gratitude journals and designate a time each day, maybe before bed, to make a short entry.
  • Start family meals by quickly going around the table and having each family member name one thing they are grateful for. (We’ve been doing this with our 5 and 3 year old for the past 6 months and we no longer have to prompt them. As soon as they sit down to the table, the first thing out of their mouths is always, “Today, I’m thankful for…”)
  • Write thank you notes not only for presents, but also for actions.  On Teacher Appreciation Day, Grandparents Day, or just a regular day of the week, have your children write a letter to an important person in their life.  If they’re comfortable reading the letter out loud to that person, encourage them to do so.  It will make the experience all the more powerful for both your child and the letter’s recipient.

Taking time as a family to practice gratitude doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming and the benefits your children will reap are profound. Wishing you and your family a happy Thanksgiving!

Photo credit: Stephanie Morgan

 

 

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