At my family’s annual Thanksgiving celebration, we have an activity where we write on little sheets of paper what we are thankful for. Throughout the appetizer [read: wine] hour[s], cousins and aunts and brothers and nieces can be found toiling in the front room of my aunt’s home about what their answer should be – should it be sincere, clever, political; do we have anything fun to announce? Then, once we’ve eaten as many servings of turkey and pumpkin roll as we can handle, the basket is passed and everyone draws a paper and reads someone else’s “I’m thankful for.” For as much as we worry about having a good answer and the vulnerability of someone else reading your words, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s something I look forward to every year.
As another November arrives and Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been considering this tradition, among many other experiences over the years, which have served to teach me gratitude. Which led me to wonder, now that I myself have a small person to consider: how do we teach our kids gratitude? How do we raise thankful kids?
I think the question sort of answers itself, when you think about it. What has helped me to be a more grateful person, to voice my thankfulness more openly? Doing just that – voicing it. Putting words to the things that fill me to exploding with gratitude. Like most things, the best way to teach our kids how to do this is to talk about it with them, and of course, the ever present answer: to model it ourselves.
It is easy to get lost in a day that is full of work, of struggling with our kids through meals and bath times and please just one more bedtime story. Try rounding out the day by telling your little darlings [however darling they may have been that day] how thankful you are for them, and for the time you spent together. That you are thankful you have a job that allows you to see them after school and enjoy fun activities on weekends. Be intentional about sharing these with your kiddos in moments where you are truly extremely grateful, and on the more trying days, as well.
Receive gifts [both tangible and not so much] with sincere gratitude to the givers. Show your littles just what it looks like to love someone by letting them love you, and showing your gratitude for it. As I’ve mentioned before, our kids are listening. They are paying attention to our words and how we treat those around us. If they know the joy of hearing the words, “I’m thankful for you,” they will be more likely to pay it right on forward.
Talk about gratitude. Keep a little log of your thankful-fors with your kids in the month of November. Start a Thanksgiving tradition where you share your “I’m thankful fors” as we have. When you feel stuck in a brattitude with your kiddo, instead of chastising or punishing, try helping them come up with some things they’re thankful for. It’s a powerful tool [for both kids and adults] to overcome sadness, brattiness, and days when it seems the cranky-pants are on TIGHT.
Whispering an occasional “say thank you” won’t kill them… but the best way to ensure that your kids know how to express their gratitude, that they know the power and importance of being thankful for what they have, is by showing them yourself. Talking about it with them. Give them the words to express their thanks and then sit back and watch them give it.