Tag Archives: thankfulness

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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FIVE ways to avoid the gimmies during the holidays

My son was recently looking at the calendar, counting out the days we had left until Christmas.

“I just can’t wait for it to get here!” he exclaimed.  At the same time, I was going over the mental list I had going on repeat, listing every single item I need to buy now that we are officially in the holiday season. I paused in my checklist and turned to him.

“Really? What are you going to get ME?” I asked him. He took on a deer-in-the-headlights look.

“Uh…” he stammered, quickly switching the subject to something else.

It’s only natural that kids focus most on the “getting” than the “giving” in the holiday seasons. Let’s face it, the holidays are geared around the younger generation with the ongoing commercials of must-have toys and the giant catalogs of goodies from the big box stores in every Sunday paper, as well as all the loudest and brightest merchandise at their eye level in the stores.

Kids want, want, want. And what do we do? Give, give give.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not bad parents for supplying our kids with the things they wish for. And kids are not bad for constantly wanting more no matter how much they have. Regardless of how downhill our economy is, we’re fortunate to be able to offer our kids more than we probably had growing up, and definitely more than many in other economic scenarios. However, we’d be doing them a disservice if we didn’t also use this time to instill in our kids a virtue of gratitude – especially as the holidays approach. Here are FIVE tips I have to encourage a spirit of thanks in your household – shifting the focus from receiving to giving – starting with this holiday season.

1. Model Gratitude
Just as important as it is for our kids to say “please” and “thank you” for everything they ask for and receive, they should be hearing it from us – their parents. Modeling the behavior we wish our kids to follow speaks much louder than any verbal instruction we could give them, and is an important key in teaching gratitude. Whether big or small, never fail to offer heartfelt thanks for anything that is given to you. Thank the waiter for their service when you go out to eat.  Thank the barista when you grab a cup of coffee.  And be sure to offer your child at least one sincere “thank you” per day, being specific about what they did and how it made you feel. You’ll not only teach HOW to say thank you, you will also be encouraging kind acts from everyone in the family as they feel more appreciated.

2. Grateful Lists
Create time out of each day for the whole family to gather together (dinnertime, for example), and take turns to list three things each person is grateful for that day. Hot chocolate. Warm blankets. Smiles from friends. A favorite stuffed animal. A kind word from a teacher. Doing well on a test. Focusing on all the good things in life every single day serves as a reminder about how fortunate everyone in your family really is. Plus, it may even invite more good things to come your way.

3. Donate.
Whether your time, your belongings, or your money, giving to those in need should be a habit for every family. There are always those in worse situations who could benefit from the kindness of what you have to give. Encourage your child’s help when going through clothes and toys to give away, taking time to discuss who might receive them and how it might help them or make them feel when they receive them. Choose a heart from one of Volunteer Now’s Giving Trees (see volunteernow.org for locations) and have your child help choose and wrap the gift. You can even bring the whole family for an evening of bagging food at the Redwood Empire Food Bank (see refb.org for available times).

4. Thank you notes
It was required of us when we were kids, and it should be required of our kids as well. For every gift a child receives, they should write a note to the person who gives it them. How involved these notes are depends on the age of the child and their concept of understanding. But eventually, a kid should write a note that offers three things – an offering of thanks for the gift, how they will be able to use that gift, and why they appreciate the person who gave it to them.

5. Just say no.
It’s one of the hardest words, but possibly the most important. Don’t succumb to giving your child everything they ask for, or fulfilling all their requests on their gift lists. Let them have the opportunity to earn the things they want by themselves. This teaches them the value of a dollar, as well as appreciating the effort put into each gift they do receive. And it is also a way to be kinder to your pocketbook.

What are some ways you help your kids focus more on giving during the holiday season?