As Thanksgiving nears and the holiday season pushes full force ahead, we often take time with our children to reflect on our blessings and the opportunities we have been given in life. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year to be reminded of and teach children how easy it is to increase gratitude about everything that we have. Having gratitude when starting the holiday season can increase the feelings of having “enough” when faced with consumerism. According to PsychologyToday.com there are also several scientifically proven benefits of gratitude, which include:
- Opening doors for new relationships to form
- Improvements in physical and psychological health
- Development of empathy
- Reduction in aggression
- Improvements in sleep and self-esteem.
However, it is easy to allow the stress of “difficult” family and friends, traveling, and consumerism to hinder a grateful heart. Children can become consumed with materialism and preoccupied with the need for the latest technology. An “attitude of gratitude” does not develop naturally for children, and it is something that must be practiced consistently.
Patience is key when practicing gratitude.
Below are some tips and exercises to teach children about gratitude and guide your family through the holiday challenges.
- Be a Role-Model. The best way children learn is by watching and then doing. Children will watch their parents and behave in a similar manner. Practice gratitude in front of your child by speaking on what you are grateful for, and praise your child when you witness them expressing gratitude towards other. Lead by example and model behaviors that conceptualize gratitude, such as saying thank you, using phrases such as “I am grateful for…”, and giving detailed expressions of appreciation.
- Have Gratitude be Part of Daily Conversations. When you reinforce an idea frequently, it is more likely that that idea will become a habit. Practice reinforcing gratitude throughout the day in front of the children (e.g. “We are so lucky to have ____.” “ I appreciate that you are listening to me today.” “I am grateful for ____.”) You may also want to designate a specific part of your day with your family to talk about gratitude. While sitting around the dinner table, go around and have each person talk about something they were grateful for that day. Bedtime is also a great time to discuss gratitude. As you and your family begin to wind down for the night, take time to identify what you are grateful for and share those things with one another.
- Volunteer as a Family. Many families make it a tradition to volunteer around the holidays. Helping others is a great way to encourage gratitude in your children. Some examples of volunteer opportunities are working in a soup kitchen, picking up trash along the road, or volunteering at a food bank. You also can volunteer on a smaller scale, such as making food for a sick neighbor or cleaning an elderly person’s home. As you volunteer with your family, have a discussion about gratitude. Talk about how what you are doing is affecting others, as well as how it is affecting each of you individually. Discuss why you are volunteering and why volunteering is important. For more information on volunteering and the opportunities in your community visit www.createthegood.org.
- Encourage generosity. Donating items is a simple task that you can do with your children over the holiday season to encourage generosity, which may increase gratitude. The first thing you can do is to go through your closets and donate items that are no longer needed or no longer bring you joy. You will want to model for your children how to choose between what to keep and what to give away. Then, have your children do the same. Discuss why you are donating items and how those donated items will affect others. Talk about how grateful you were to have had the items, but that there are others in need who will experience gratitude for you donating your items.
- Create a Family Gratitude Jar. A gratitude jar is an activity that is similar to a gratitude journal, where your family can benefit from writing down thoughts of gratitude and sharing those thoughts with one another. You can use a gratitude jar all year long or make the jar a holiday tradition. Each child can have their own jar or you can make one that the entire family shares. Here’s how to make a gratitude jar work in your home:
- Choose a container. One of the simplest containers to use would be a mason jar. You may also want to use an old shoe box with a slit cut in the lid or a simple car. Anything with a lid that you can decorate.
- Decorate the container. Decorating can be a fun family activity where a discussion about gratitude can begin. The decor can be holiday themed or include your favorite quotes about gratitude. Let the children’s imagination guide the decorating process.
- Cut strips of paper to be placed by the jar with a pen so that expressions of gratitude can be written down. Put the jar in an area of the house that is used often and where it can be visible to the family. Ask your family to pay close attention to aspects of their lives that they are thankful for, no matter how small or silly those aspects may seem.
- Have fun! No requirements should be set with participating or how much each person should participate, but it should be encouraged to write down one thought of gratitude per day.
- Choose a time to read through the thoughts of gratitude. Whether that time be at the end of the holiday season, the end of each month, or at the end of each year, let the sharing aspect of the jar be the most important part.
“Piglet noticed, that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” – A.A Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Encouraging a Grateful Heart During the Holiday Season
Adrienne Stover, MS, LPCA