You’ve probably heard how important it is to practice gratitude. After the last year and a half dealing with a pandemic, it seems more important than ever to remember to pause and remember the good things in our lives. Here are some simple ideas on ways to do that around your house and teach your kids a habit that will be good for them their whole lives.
(This blog was originally published in 2019 and has been updated.)
Thanksgiving is on its way — and what better time of year to teach your kids all about being thankful? And while manners are always encouraged, thankfulness is more than just a hasty “please” and “thank you” when your child finally gets those cookies they’ve been eyeing all day. Gratitude isn’t easy, even for adults. It’s something your kids will probably be working on for their whole lives. That’s why it’s important to start teaching them small actions they can do now to reflect on all the good in their little lives. Here are four activities you can do together to help them begin to develop their sense of gratitude.
1. Keep a gratitude jar.
Gratitude jars are a great way to get your kids thinking about finding the good in each day — and it’s a practice they can continue throughout their life. Before bedtime, ask your child to think about their day and choose one thing they’re thankful for. It could be that they got a good grade on a test, had a fun playdate with a friend, or maybe they were just happy that the sun was shining. Write their thoughts on a slip of paper and put it in the gratitude jar. At the end of every week or month or so, you can read through the notes together and reflect on how many good things happened — and how much there is to be grateful for, even on bad days.
2. Write thank you cards.
Thank you cards aren’t just for birthdays or Christmas — your kids can write them at any time of year. Choose a group of people, like your child’s class, their immediate family, or their group of close friends. Then, have them think about what they appreciate about each person in the group and write special notes for them. They’ll also learn kindness by finding something they enjoy about their classmates or siblings who they may not get along with.
3. Give a gift.
Gifts are a great way to show gratitude! Tell your child they can choose one person who is extra special to them, then help them make a gift. Ask your child to think hard about what that person would enjoy receiving, like a drawing of their favorite animal or a tomato from the garden. Then, they can give their special person the present and see how happy it makes them.
4. Help someone who needs it.
It’s easy for kids not to understand how much they have to be grateful for when everyone else they know has a lot too. But giving back helps kids understand that not everyone has enough, not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving family, a roof over their heads, enough to eat and plenty of people to support them. And many people are facing even harder times now caused by the Covid pandemic. And the truth is, studies have shown that the more you give, the more your own gratitude and happiness grow.
There are tons of ways you and your family can give back— like donating a coat to a local coat drive or bringing food to a nearby food pantry. There are volunteer opportunities for kids and their parents at great organizations like the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Cradles to Crayons. If your child loves and values reading you might want to talk to them about how some kids don’t even have books to read and collect some of the gently used children’s books your kids have outgrown and donate them to Bernie’s Book Bank. Or next time you buy a book for your child, buy one to donate.
Whatever steps you take to teach your kids about gratitude now could make a difference that will last a lifetime to their health and their happiness. And trying to teach your kids more about gratitude could have another benefit – it might remind us parents, who so often get caught up in the day to day busyness of our lives, to stop more often and simply say “Thank you” too.