Thanksgiving is the time of year that brings gratefulness to the forefront of our minds. However, it is important to teach our children to be grateful year round. Thanksgiving is a great time to introduce grace, charity, and gratefulness concepts that can be encouraged throughout the year.
1. The Power of Thank You
Saying thank you is the simplest way to show gratitude, and anyone can do it. From toddler to teenager, the habit of saying thank you is a lesson easily learned. You can introduce it by just doing it yourself. Thank your kids or your spouse for doing things that you ask, or for doing things without you having to ask. It doesn't have to be big things either. Thank your toddler for picking up the baby's pacifier when it falls, or thank them for waiting their turn. Thank your older shild for doing their homework or setting the table. Just because the task is expected of them does not mean that they don't deserve thanks for doing it. Whatever it is, just thank them.
If you want to drive the point further home, talk about it at the end of the day. Ask your child how they felt when you thanked them. It feels good. Makes you feel appreciated. Makes you feel loved. Talk about how this is an easy way that you can help someone feel good and it doesn't require grand gestures.
While big charity drives are great, and I strongly encourage participating in them, I think this should be something that can be done more regularly. Periodically go through clothes and toys. Find what doesn't fit and what doesn't get played with and donate them. While we might be tempted to do the toy one when our kids aren't around (they won't miss what they don't remember), it is far better for them to know that they are helping other kids. It may mean less gets donated at first, but it helps our children realize ways they can help other people.
3. End The Day With Reflection
The scale of this can vary by age, but the point is to reflect on the positives of the day. For small kids, you can discuss the day and all the wonderful things that happened. This can be incorporated into evening prayer where you thank God for the blessings of the day. Older kids can be encouraged to start a gratitude journal where they write down the things they are grateful for. Not only does this encourage gratitude, but it can also change perspective. On bad days, this exercise will be all the more helpful as you help your child find the silver linings and see that through it all they can always find something to be grateful for.
4. Give Chores
In order for chores to help children understand gratitude, it should not be presented as a job. If you want to give your kids an allowance, then do so, but don't make it contingent on chores. Chores shouldn't be a job they get paid for. Chores should be something they do to show gratitude and appreciation for their home and their lifestyle. It should also be a matter of pride. Your child can help dust because they are grateful to have things that need dusting and they are proud of their home. They can show gratitude for the toys they have by putting them away nicely.
5. Make Gifts
Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to make gifts to donate to the less fortunate. Older kids can make craft items and younger kids can decorate cards. Last year, T and I made and donated Christmas cards on Veterans Day. You can get inspiration from our project here. The card ideas in that post are especially good for toddlers who aren't really drawing yet. These items can be donated to nursing homes, the armed forces, or veterans groups. To keep this going throughout the rest of the year, make birthday cards and crafts instead of Christmas ones.
6. Encourage Them to Help Others
Again this can be little actions that have a big impact. Encourage older siblings to help younger ones. Encourage your kids to pick an item up when someone drops it. Encourage them to take turns. Leading by example is applicable here as well. The more you encourage and show appreciation for these little actions, the more they become a part of your child's natural behavior. At first you may have to suggest that your child help someone. Eventually, they will do it on their own.
While making grand gestures of gratitude and charity at Thanksgiving time is wonderful, we don't want to inadvertently lead our children to believe that this is a once a year thing. Thanksgiving is a good time to be reminded of all we have to be thankful for, but we should endeavor to be gracious year round.
How do you encourage gratitude in your kids? Share it in the comments.