Parents' pleas for more grateful children are nothing new. And while sometimes frustrated parents come at gratitude from an 'I'll give you something to cry about' approach, teaching kids to 'give thanks' and notice what they have is a good idea. Not only because children who don't notice tend to be more self-centered, materialistic and prone to entitlement but because research has found that gratitude helps people have fewer depression symptoms while feeling more life satisfaction, optimism, resiliency and connection to others.
Wanting our children to truly feel grateful and helping them appreciate their circumstances gives them a life-long opportunity for happiness. Considering that Thanksgiving is a natural day to kick start your children's gratitude practice, here are some ways do that:
- Prior Discussions: Prior to dinner, have a discussion with your children. Ask them why we give thanks and what they think is important about this day and share your thoughts on the importance of gratitude.
- Saying 'Thank You': Check in with your own gratitude. Make a point of saying 'thank you' more and more genuinely to the people in your life today - including your children!
- Mealtime Traditions: Having a family prayer or going around the table sharing thankful sentiments helps everyone remember the reason for the gathering. This can be done informally or with more flair. For those who don't like to speak up in a crowd, prior to the meal you can have a Gratitude Journal or Jar that people can add too, or designate someone to bring around slips of paper and a pen and have people submit a gratitude. At the dinner table, designate someone to read them at the meal. (Note: Make the gratitude more powerful by being specific and adding 'because...' as in 'I'm grateful for the fact that dad has a job because we can afford this nice meal.')
- Faraway Family: If some family are missing from the day, have them send a gratitude beforehand or use the phone or computer (try skype) to have them be 'present' at your gratitude moment.
- Lost Loved Ones: If your family has lost someone important, depending on where people are in the grieving process, having those gathered share why they are grateful for that person or what they think that person's would be are ways of bringing your loved one's spirit into the day.
- Doing Gratitude: If you want to go to the next level - doing gratitude can be incorporated into the day or as a plan for the near future. Inviting someone who doesn't have plans, helping a neighbor with tasks or yardwork, volunteering to serve food at a community Thanksgiving celebration, donating toys to Toys-For-Tots or food at Busch's Rocking For The Hungry, planning a fast for another day and donating the saved money to a good cause or connecting your gratitude to action - such as cleaning up a park you are grateful for, or writing a card to someone who would appreciate some mail can bring gratitude full circle.
Like cooking the turkey (or ordering one!) making Gratitude an important part of Thanksgiving takes thoughtfulness and preparation. And hopefully, putting in the effort is something you'll be grateful for, for years to come.
Have a Thanks Giving tradition you're grateful for? Please consider sharing it below.
Annie Zirkel, LPC is an Ann Arbor mom, parenting consultant and author of You'll Thank Me Later - Guide to Nurturing Gratitude In Our Children (And Why That Matters). Submit your parenting or relationship question to firstname.lastname@example.org Creative Commons License photo credit: Alan Vernon.