This has been an unprecedented year for most Americans. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, some may be finding a lot to be grateful for– for example, the end of the election process, or remaining healthy through the pandemic– while others may have had a different experience and may be struggling with feeling gratitude. Sometimes having gratitude is something people have to work on, especially children, who are used to seeing the world with themselves in the center.
The best way for children to learn gratitude is having good role models. Seeing you express gratitude regularly goes a long way. Helping them see the world outside themselves helps build gratitude. For example, understanding that not everyone lives in a house or neighborhood like theirs, or that people in different cultures and countries celebrate and give thanks in different ways.
Here are a few creative traditions you can start with your kids to teach them how to begin to think about how their actions can bring happiness to themselves and others.
1. Start the day with an intention. Mornings can be crazy, especially on school days, but grab a second, at the breakfast table or in the car, to ask your kids to set an intention for the day. It’s OK if their intention is self-centered, for instance if they say they want to perform well at sports that evening. The point is to get them thinking about being intentional and learning that their actions affect others. Eventually you’ll likely see their intentions involving goodwill towards others.
2. End the day with an expression of gratitude. Again, help them draw their thoughts to the world around them and how they fit in by asking them to state one thing they are grateful for that day. It doesn’t have to be big ticket items, like God, their family, or their best friend, in fact, it’s better if it’s not. Make them think about all the little things they can be thankful for each day.
3. Start a “highs and lows” tradition at dinner time or bedtime. Each family member states the best and worst thing that happened that day, or their high point and their low point. Then, take it further by asking everyone to “flip” their low point. Can they identify a silver lining in their low point. Is there a lesson in it? Or did their low point benefit someone else? For example, if your child’s low point was that they sat the bench when they thought they should have been playing, help them to see that it was someone else’s turn to have that high point.
4. Practice acts of service as a family. One of the best things you can do for your children is to teach them the gift of service to others. Besides benefiting other people, it teaches your kids that giving time and service to others helps lift them emotionally, so it’s a win-win! While it might be difficult to do acts of service physically during social distancing, you could bake cookies to donate to a shelter, write letters to residents of nursing homes, or offer to walk your elderly neighbors’ dogs.
5. Start a family charity. Kids love to save up money, and many can be very generous with their savings. Start a family charity fund and offer to match what your children contribute from their allowance, other earned money, or monetary gifts. Once or twice a year, decide as a family where to donate the accumulated funds.
6. Let them be secret superheroes. Have your children pick a person to be a secret superhero for. It may be a classmate, neighbor, or member of your extended family. Your child can write notes of encouragement or praise to this person, leave them small gifts, or secretly perform an act of kindness for them. The point of remaining secret is to teach your children that they don’t need to be recognized or rewarded for being kind to others.
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*Don’t forget about our four-legged friends at the local humane societies, as well!*