Teaching Children to Give Thanks

As the holiday season approaches, we as parents find ourselves reflecting on our good fortune that we have experienced throughout the year and want to be able to share this with our children.  It's certainly great for adults to contemplate on these blessings; but the important question is how can we also involve our children and teach them to be thankful in return?

First, I believe that teaching children to be thankful starts with the parents or adult role-models that are involved in the child’s life.  This holiday seasons allows for the perfect opportunity for families to get started in this endeavor to teach our children to be thankful.

Why is it important to teach your child to be thankful for all their good fortune?
Research has shown that being thankful as a child or adult is actually good for your health and is easy to do.  Especially during these challenging times that many families are facing, we can always find something to be thankful for to improve our outlook on life.  This type of wonderful gratitude can be highly contagious and what a wonderful attribute to share with your children and family.  Cultivating these skills in your children can truly be life changing for them.

Dr Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!  How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, discovered that, "people that are grateful report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, and lower levels of stress. People tend to be more satisfied with what they have and less disappointed in what they don't."  For a parent, expressing this concept to your children can be challenging.  Where do you start or begin? There are some simple things as a parent you can do.

Parents need to start with themselves as the role models for what giving thanks looks like. The key is it really does start at home.  Promoting these simple steps can get you started on the right track…

· Start by recognizing and labeling what being thankful looks like. For instance, the next time your child helps to bring in your elderly neighbors groceries let them know that they just performed a good deed for someone.  And I’m sure that the neighbor was thankful for the small favor and also the child should be thankful that they were capable of doing the favor.  Many children don’t realize that as you get older, it can be difficult to perform the easiest of tasks. 

· It’s very important as adults to teach and show our children to say Thank You to others when they assist you, no matter how large or small the favor was at the time.  We also, as parents, need to take it a step further and teach our children not to only to say it but really mean it.  This skill can really allow children to see beyond themselves and the tendency for them to be self-absorbed and be able to put themselves in someone else shoes.  With our guidance, our children can learn to put others first.

· Express your appreciation of even simple things:  "It was great that you cleaned your room without me asking, and I loved that you helped your sister clean her room too.”

· Share good deeds. During dinner or while driving to school, ask your children  to describe  a few good things that happened during their day

· Get out and volunteer. Encourage your children to volunteer their time at a nearby organization, such as a local library, senior center, or depending on their age they can just volunteer to clean up the garbage on your street.  Just do whatever works best for your family.

· Be a role model. Make sure to bring along your children when you donate clothes, toys or furniture to needy families or organizations.  This is a great way to role model for them.  That way they can also see how fortunate they are and that some families are not as fortunate.

· Ask your child to write a thank you note for a gift, or for someone helping them with chore, homework, or for fixing their bike or toy.

· As a parent be aware of the little things. If your child is upset about the rain, turn it around and say we really needed the rain and it is so good for the grass. Instead of feeding into a gloomy day, help your child to be grateful for even the smallest things.

· Go without a television, computer or cell phone for a week. Yes you can survive this!  It will help your child to be thankful for the things they have (this works especially well for teens!)

Some Thankful Crafts to Do with Your Children…

·Giving Thanks Placemats
Create a collage filled with drawings and pictures of all the things your children are thankful for. Use magazines and family pictures.  Have your children write captions.  Add their name and the year. You can use this at dinner time or at the holidays.

·Thankful Paper Chains
Throughout the month, have your children write down on strips of paper what they are thankful for. Such as, "I love that grandma spends time with me". You can start these in green and red and keep it going through Christmas.  Staple each one together to make a chain to hang to remind everyone why they are thankful.

·Thankful Tree
This is a fun activity.  If you are expecting family and friends over for holiday dinner, send them a small piece of paper beforehand.  Ask them to trace their hand on it, cut it out, and write what they are thankful for. You can also cut out leaves etc. Tell them to bring it with them to dinner. At the dinner table everyone can read what they wrote and you can put it on a tree branch as a display. Everyone will be able to admire and your children can read them again and again.

· Thankful Journals
There are many things that happen in the course of a week or a day. To keep track of it all, keep a family journal.  Journal about the fun, exciting and good things that happen but also chronicle challenges and troubles.  Each time something is disappointing, you and your child can write down something that is good, or to be thankful for in the journal. There will be many times your children will pick up this book to read and I bet you will also.

Help your child to be thankful and appreciate all the small things in life.  Remind them that a "thank you" or "that was nice of you" will go a long way. There are so many ways to be thankful and do grateful things; you just have to think outside the box.  You never know your child might show you something to be thankful for!

Kelli DiDomenico brings over 20 years of experience to her role at The Children's Workshop as Director of Parent and Community Relations.  Kelli earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College.  She was the Director and Owner of her own School Age Program and a Program Manager for Therapeutic child care before rejoining the TCW team in 2010.  She is also a very active member of the communities we serve.