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Putting the "thanks" into Thanksgiving

November 21, 2012

What are you thankful for this holiday season? This should be a question that all parents ask their kids, not only around the holidays, but year-round too. Studies show that adults who have an attitude of gratitude have more energy, more optimism, more social connections, and are all-around happier than those who do not. And researchers are finding that this same theory holds true for children and adolescents too. Kids who show signs of gratefulness typically have higher GPAs and are less materialistic.

But, here’s the catch. Gratitude is not a natural behavior and must be taught, starting at a young age. Toddlers are by nature self-centered, and need to be taught to look outside of their one-person universe and appreciate other people, and other things. According to Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Kids, by learning gratitude, children are able to become sensitive to the feelings of others, and develop empathy and other life skills along the way. So, if parents have the primary role of teaching gratitude to their little ones, where do you start?

Here are some practical ways to put the “thanks” into “Thanksgiving” (and every other day, for that matter):

Set a Good Example. This one may seem like a given, but can be more difficult to adhere to than one may realize. Consistency and repetitiveness are important when teaching a new concept to young children. Try working gratitude into conversation by communicating to your kids what you are grateful for, and allowing them to share what they are thankful for on a routine basis. Want another easy way to add gratitude into conversation? Practice saying thank you! Tell your children “thank you” and tell them why you are thankful, encouraging them to do the same.

Have Kids Help. Give your kids a chore to do and stay out of the way! It can be frustrating for parents to watch their kids attempt something, knowing if they stepped in it would be much easier and faster. However, the more you take over, the less kids appreciate what you do for them. Chores aren’t always fun, but doing little things like feeding the dog, taking the trash out, or clearing the table, teaches kids that all of these things take effort.

Encourage Generosity. Teaching kids to share is a great way to break the “all about me” attitude. Sharing can be as simple as sharing a snack, toy, or your child’s favorite book. The holiday season is also a great way to give back, especially to those in need. Seek out a local toy drive and get your kid’s involved in the selection, wrapping, and giving of the toy to another family in need.

Volunteer. Find a project to get your kids involved in to help them see what it means to give to others. It can be something as simple as baking cookies for the elderly lady down the street, or making a get-well card for a sick classmate. If your kids are older, have them volunteer to do the yard work of your next-door neighbor, or hold a neighborhood car wash and give the funds to a local charity.

Tradition of Thankfulness. Even though gratitude should be taught year-round, here are some crafty ideas to help teach your children the meaning of thankfulness this holiday season:

  • Create a holiday gratitude can and have family members write down what they are thankful for in the days leading up to Christmas.
  • Beat the afternoon slump on Thanksgiving Day by creating a Thankful Wreath with the kids.
  • Want another easy craft idea? Trace your child’s hand to help them create a Hand Tree, using leaves to list the things they are thankful for.
  • Countdown the days to Christmas using this Gratitude Chain.
And for all of those other days that aren’t included in the holiday season, have your kids write thank-you cards to send in the mail to friends and family.

An attitude of gratitude can go a long way – even the simplest act of kindness can make the biggest impact in a person’s life. Teach your kids how to be thankful this holiday season, and help them put the “thanks” back into “Thanksgiving”.

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers! We hope your day is full of many thanks and blessings.