By Farrah Alexander
When I was pregnant with my first, Daniel, I craved Thanksgiving food the entire duration. No pickles and ice cream for me; I wanted mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole. Pumpkin pie visited me in my dreams.
I love Thanksgiving. The decadent food, the time spent with my wonderful family, the pre-meal mimosas, the browsing Black Friday ads – what’s not to love? Hop into your stretchiest stretchy pants and enjoy this beautiful, gluttonous holiday.
But I’ll admit, I often get caught up in the chaos of the holiday and sometimes lose sight of the theme of gratitude. The word “thanks” is in the name of the holiday, after all. It should be easy to remember to remain grateful and express your blessings, but it’s so easy for those ideas to slip away.
It’s hard enough for a grown adult to maintain a sense of gratitude, it’s certainly a challenge for little ones. But teaching your kids to be thankful and express gratitude at Thanksgiving and beyond is a truly worthwhile goal. Grateful kids are happier and even more of a joy to others. (Watch an adult’s face light up when a small child thanks them. It’s impossible not to smile.)
Teaching your children to say, “thank you” when appropriate is a great lesson of course. But it’s really just good manners. Teaching your child to regularly practice gratitude is a philosophy that they can adopt and will serve them well their entire lives.
So, here’s some simple ways to do it:
- Expand on your “thank yous.” When you thank someone, add a little something genuine and personal that shows why you’re grateful. For example, say after you cook dinner, your kid says, “thank you.” It’s a nice gesture and you’re glad your kid is being polite. But, what if your kid instead says, “Thank you for making dinner. I know spaghetti’s not your favorite, but it’s my favorite and you make the best spaghetti.” See how genuine that sounds? It’s a great way not only to make the person being thanked feel fantastic, it’s a great way to reflect on gratitude and express why you’re sincerely grateful.
- Call out your blessings. If you feel grateful for something, say it out loud in front of your kids. It doesn’t have to be anything huge; any ordinary, seemingly insufficient thing is perfect. If you feel grateful, just say it. Saying things like, “I just love having the opportunity to spend time with you when you get home from school” or “I love when we have dinner together as a family” are simple but meaningful.
- Regularly ask your child what they’re grateful for or what their blessings are. It’s a good opportunity for them to reflect on their days and remember how blessed they are. If they’re stumped at first, you can share a few things you’re grateful for and then challenge them to come up with three of their own. It doesn’t have to be profound. If they name three friends at school they have or three of their favorite toys, that’s fine. No wrong answers.
- Get into the habit of charitable giving or volunteering if you’re able. You don’t have to give a detailed account of all the ways people across the world suffer, but you don’t have to sugar-coat that people do suffer either. There are countless ways to help and many people in need of help. So, find a way your family can help others. You can make a holiday tradition of volunteering at a local homeless shelter, donating food to a local charity or forgoing some gifts of your own to give to others instead. Get creative!
- Turn your gratitude into a festive display for Thanksgiving. I’ve seen some really adorable seasonal crafts perfect for this. You can get a large pumpkin and ask your children what they’re grateful for each day and write it on the pumpkin. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you have a pumpkin filled with all the many blessings your children are grateful for. You can even have a pumpkin for each child. Then, on Thanksgiving, you can review all the blessings. It could be a meaningful tradition for your family to reflect on the many things you’re thankful for instead of being asked on the spot.
- Consistently thank others and encourage your kids to do the same. If anyone does any kind of service for you – holding a door open, serving food at a restaurant, loading your garbage away – be sure to sincerely thank them. You’re not just being polite, you’re showing others respect and dignity. By taking the time to sincerely thank everyone, you’re showing your child that everyone is worthy of your respect.
You’ve probably caught on by now that you are directly involved in all of these suggestions. Kids learn by your example. If they see their parents doing or saying something, they’ll take notice and try to mimic your behavior. (Trust me, I let a minor swear word slip three years ago and my son still brings it up. Kids are sponges.) Plus, let’s be honest, can’t we use a little gratitude in our lives?
Be thankful this Thanksgiving, but be grateful your entire life.