Updated: Nov 3, 2019
Written By: Stacey Massey-Birett
I passed a sign outside of a church the other day that read, “Thanksgiving is not a day, it’s a way of life.” I quietly said an amen to that as I drove on pondering this message.
Without intention, it’s easy to get caught up in day to day tasks and forget about all the things we have to be grateful for. When we really think about life, even in the darkest times, if we seek out gratitude, we will always find it even if it’s in the smallest of ways.
As we head into the season of thanks, it prompted me to think about not only practicing gratitude and being thankful for what I am blessed with each day, but it seemed an appropriate season to start implementing somewhat of a gratitude practice with my kids – in a way that they can understand, implement and hopefully expand upon as they grow.
When I was a kid, the meaning of Thanksgiving was somewhat lost on me. For me, this celebration meant yummy dessert and an extra long weekend. Now, decades later, Thanksgiving and the idea of being grateful are extremely important in my life and for helping with my mental well-being because, as the saying goes, you can’t be unhappy and grateful at the same time!
So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with a few ideas on how to start teaching my kiddos about gratitude and the importance of being thankful.
Before you start, I’d really encourage you to ask your kiddos what they think being grateful or thankful means. I bet you’ll be surprised by their answers!! My five year old said it means ‘being happy about stuff’ and my eight year old, said that “it’s things people do that make you happy, like being helpful and kind to others.” I’d say that’s a great base to start from because one of the best ways to ignite a happy, positive attitude is through practicing gratitude. As the saying goes, you can’t be unhappy and grateful at the same time!
Here’s some ideas to get you started on teaching gratitude to your little ones:
Keep it simple. If you’ve ever done any kind of personal development, you’ll know practicing gratitude is a huge component in shifting your mindset. While we want to always be thankful for the major components in our life, like health and family, to create a sense of gratitude that will get you through difficult times, you want to encourage your littles to not only be thankful for the big components in life, but to also give thanks for the little things, like someone who asks them to play tag, or being picked to lead the line at school, or getting to stay up late on a Friday night. Keeping things simple helps us all start to recognize all the good things in this world instead of focusing on the negative aspects of life.
Say a blessing. I know many families say a blessing at Thanksgiving or go around the table and state something their grateful for. Ever wonder why we limit this to a special occasion? You don’t have to be religious to say a blessing. Use Thanksgiving as a kick-off and keep up the habit of coming together over dinner and sharing something about your day.
Create a word list. Using a white board, or on a simple white piece of paper on your fridge, start a word list every month. Every day, ask your kids for one word that they associate with being happy. You could give them some ideas, such as stuffies, video games, treats. Throughout the month, ask them for a new word every day and add to your list but don’t let them repeat the same word. Then next month start again. Bonus – for young kids learning to read or practicing writing, you can use this exercise as practice.
Write thank you notes. I don’t know about you, but my kids love being creative. What about harnessing their creativity into showing gratitude by encouraging them to create thank you cards or notes for their friends, teachers, coaches and family.
Make a gratitude jar. Every day, ask your kids to think of something they are grateful for that day. Write it down and put it in a jar. Then whenever they’re having a down day, encourage them to grab some of the notes to remind them about all the things they have to be grateful for.
Read together. If you do a quick online search, you will be amazed at how many children’s books there are about gratitude! From small board books to larger more advanced books for tweens, there’s a huge selection available. And don’t forget, reading together and having that special bonding time together with your child is another thing to be thankful for!
Lead by example.
As is the case with most aspects of teaching, leading by example can be your best tool. Making an effort to let your kiddos see you practising gratitude in real life be it through words of appreciation or journaling, your example will go a long way in creating an attitude of gratitude.