Teaching kids thankfulness

This article also appears in the Press Democrat on Friday, November 16.

The month of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of year. It’s the season when everyone stops what they’re doing and counts all the things they have to be thankful for. I’m a huge believer in the power of positive thinking, and I’ve noticed that when I steer my focus towards what I have that is good instead of all the things I wish were different, the good stuff just keeps on coming into my life.

While thankfulness is a virtue that can be practiced all year round (and should!), I try to incorporate more activities in the month of November that promote a sense of gratitude. Here are a few ideas to help your own family practice acts of thankfulness throughout the rest of the month, and hopefully long after Thanksgiving has passed.

Create a thankful tree. Choose a plant already in your home, or buy one especially for this practice. Every day, have everyone write something they’re grateful for on a slip of paper shaped like a leaf and hang it on the tree. On Thanksgiving Day, collect the thankful leaves and read them out loud as a family. You can even make it an annual tradition to plant your thankful tree in the yard after Thanksgiving to serve as an every day reminder of all you have to be grateful for.

Have a daily “Thankful Three” recap. Last year our family actually tried this exercise. It seemed hard at first to come up with three things to be thankful for every day, but the practice became easier as time went on. Every day we were to come up with three things we were grateful for – anything from having clean water to drink to describing something awesome that happened that day. At dinnertime, we went around the table and listed off these three things to the family. We had some of our best dinner conversations during this time!

Remember the people you’re thankful for. Email, text messages, and social media have taken the place of good old-fashioned letter writing. And yet, there is something so special about receiving a personal letter in the mail amidst the piles of bills and mail fliers. Sit down with the kids and make a list of all the people you are grateful for. Then write a letter to each one of them telling why they mean so much to you.

Help others. Pick a day to serve at a local mission or food bank. Adopt a family at Thanksgiving. Donate a turkey at one of the turkey drives. Do something, anything, for someone who has no way to pay you back. Nothing teaches more about how much we truly have than when we are helping those who have much less then we do. What a powerful message to kids and adults alike to take time out of a busy schedule and give it to those who have suffered life’s hard breaks. What you give will be received back many times over in the way your heart will expand in your chest while making a difference in someone else’s life.

Give a basket of goodies to a neighbor – just because. I’ll never forget the time when our family heard our doorbell ring, but no one was at the door. Instead, a basket full of wonderful gifts of food and trinkets graced our doorstep, a note attached signed by “anonymous” with instructions to pass the gesture along to another neighbor, and so on. There was magic in that basket of goodies, simple things that held so much meaning just in the way it was given. The kids and I glowed over this gift for weeks, even more so when we were able to give someone else the pleasure of discovering a gift on their doorstep. As we hid and giggled while the new gift receiver exclaimed over the basket of goodies, we were making a memory that will surely last forever.

Be an example of thanks. Take notice of anything your child is doing, and then thank them for it. When you go out to eat, thank everyone who assists you at your table, even the person filling your water glass. Notice anyone going out of their way, and offer them a simple word of thanks.

As for me, this year I have much to be thankful for – my family, my husband, a life that is filled with blessings every single day.

And I am thankful for you, the one reading these words right now.

I am thankful each time one of you sends me a personal note telling me how my words have touched you, or that you are sending my words to someone across the country. I read every letter you send me, sometimes more than once.

Thank you.

I hope each and every one of you experiences a wonderful season of thankfulness.


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