Most people think ‘turkey’ when they think of Thanksgiving, but beyond the elastic-waisted pants, the holiday has become synonymous with the expression of gratitude. Most families take a few minutes out of the meal to go around the table and have each person name something they are grateful for, but gratitude is something we should be cultivating in our kids the other 364 days of the year, too. Don’t know where to start?
Send a Thank You
It doesn’t matter if it’s a text, email, or old-fashioned card sent through the mail— encourage your kids to express their thanks whenever they receive a gift, favor, or good deed. No age excuses! Kids who can scrawl a good approximation of their name are capable of it! It’s also particularly important for you to model this behavior for them, so they see that gratitude is multi-generational and something you practice at every age. (keep reading for more advice on thank you notes)
There’s this magical thing that happens when we give our time to others – it gives us a different perspective, takes our minds off of our own ‘stuff’, and gives us a sense of purpose. It is absolutely true for adults, and even kids can reap these benefits! Again, getting your kids into the practice of volunteering is great, but just as important is for them to observe you volunteering your time and efforts. (keep reading for ways to volunteer as a family).
Find the Silver Linings
Gratitude comes in handy when things aren’t going well, because it helps you maintain proper perspective and emotional balance, so help your kids find the silver lining in the midst of a disappointing situation. Point out the unexpected free time you now have since the soccer game was rained out; the quirky roadside attraction you drove by due to taking the wrong turn; the popsicle they get at urgent care because of their sore throat.
Surround Them With Positive
We know that as adults, we are heavily influenced by who we spend our time with, and our kids are even more influenced by peers and adults. When it’s in your control, try to ensure your kids spend time around others who are positive – they find the silver linings in hard situations, they hope for the best, and they lift others up with compliments and encouragement.
One of the easiest ways to cultivate gratitude is also one of the hardest … taking time to express gratitude daily. Daily? Yes, daily. It’s okay to miss one every now and then, but a consistent practice of expressing gratitude will improve your and your kids’ mental health significantly. For the religious, you can incorporate this into your prayers. For the non-religious, you can prompt your family to name what they’re grateful for at the dinner table, at bedtime, or whenever makes sense. If you’ve got older kids who journal, prompt them to write it down if they aren’t comfortable sharing aloud.
Grateful parents produce grateful kids, and vice-versa, so make sure to practice what you preach and make gratitude a family affair!
What practices does your family use to cultivate gratitude?