Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Helping our Children Learn Gratitude


It’s that time of year again! Turkey, gravy, potatoes, and pie… and don’t forget gratitude. Ideally, we recognize all we have and all that people do for us year-round, but this time of year has this as its special focus.


For most adults we can stop and look around and think about all we went through to get where we are. We can appreciate what we have that we didn’t ten, five, or even just one year ago. We can think back to those college days when we lived on mac-and-cheese or walked every where because we couldn’t afford a car. We can think back to when we were newlyweds and slept on the floor or didn’t have a couch. It makes it easy, when we stop and look around, to find things to be grateful for.

How do we help our children to feel gratitude?

So how do we help our children who have lived their whole lives with us doing everything we can to provide a good life for them? How do we help them feel the humility that comes with gratitude when they have been shielded from as much suffering as possible?

There are at least a few ways we can help them -- activities and expectations will vary by age, but you‘ll find that there are a number of things you can do as a family that will help teach your children to be grateful. If you make the act of gratitude your family’s focus, then each member can do something different, but still be participating in the family goal.

Activities can include:

- A Thanksgiving tree. First: cut a tree out of paper or put some branches in a pot or vase. Second: cut leaves out of paper. Third: Have your family members write (or help your children if they are too young) something they are grateful for on a leaf. You can do this daily, weekly, or just once. The act of acknowledging what we are thankful for can go a long way -- and having them on display as a reminder is even better to help keep your children aware of what they have.

- A family service project. Having your children participate in helping a family or other individuals in need is a good way to make them aware of the things they do have and help them realize how trivial the things they don’t have are.

- A family ‘give it up’ week. Have everyone in your family choose something they might take for granted (cell phone, video game, computer time, dessert, etc.) to give up during a week in November. Every night at the dinner table ask how it’s going and do an inventory. Talk about how they are feeling living without whatever it was they chose. At the end of the week, have a fun ceremony where everyone can take an opportunity to talk about why they are grateful for what they gave up, and then they can talk about anything else they are grateful for -- ending with the ‘giving back’ of the item.

- A Family night focused on writing thank you notes. Provide your children with blank thank you notes and envelopes. Encourage everyone to sit down and write at least one thank you note to a family member and one thank you note to a friend, neighbor, or teacher. Help them mail the notes or make sure they get put in the back pack to be delivered. Talk about why it’s so important to appreciate the people in our lives.

What have you done in your home to promote gratitude? How did your children react?

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