Let’s face it, kids do not always feel grateful for everything they have. But just because they do not feel appreciative every minute of every day does not make them ingrates.
And for better or for worse, if you constantly nag your kids with lines like, “Do you realize how lucky/fortunate/blessed you are?” They will just tune you out eventually.
An attitude of gratitude is something children need to be reminded to practice without excessive pressuring. In fact, if you can make scavenging for gratitude an opportunity for fun every year, everybody wins.
You may be surprised to learn that your kids are a lot more appreciative than you thought. And they may decide that expressing what they are grateful for isn’t as much of a pain as they imagined.
So, go ahead. Make gratitude games an annual habit every Thanksgiving season. Here are five ways to motivate your kids to dig deep and rediscover an inner well of thankfulness without feeling put out:
Let kids pull together a mind association list of words that represent moments, memories, or anything that pops into their minds in response to the question, “What do I feel most grateful for?” Family members can work alone or as a group. A parent can help a preschooler create a short, colorful list. School-age children may do better if given a number challenge like, “What are the top 10 things you feel most grateful for this past year?” Keep the activity quick, fun, and light. Don’t treat it like an essay assignment unless you have a writer in the family, who would enjoy answering the question in essay form.
Over the course of a fall weekend, give each child an hour with your digital camera or your camera phone. The assignment is to go around your house and yard snapping photos of things that make them feel happy. These photos can include people, pets, nature, objects, places, and anything else they love. When you recover your camera, download a smattering of photos for each child into a collage format offered through your favorite local photo printing service. Have each child title the document in his or her own words and hang photo collages near the Thanksgiving table. Plastic or magnetic frames make it easy to protect and store collages for next year.
Get a few packages of blank postcards and fine-point water-based markers from the art supply store. For young children, parents can write names and addresses of family members in permanent ink on one side of the postcard, so important information won’t smear. Then, on the other side, ask your kids to write one word that describes something they appreciate about each family member and decorate the postcard to match the sentiment. Make this an annual event and family members will look forward to their handmade postcards every year.
Life is school. We are all always learning new things. Sometimes we learn things we can’t appreciate until later because the learning process is challenging, difficult or painful. Discussing these kinds of learning experiences raises an awareness of resiliency in kids and teaches them not to shirk challenges. About a week before Thanksgiving, start a round robin of sharing tough lessons learned during the past year. Rather than having everyone share in one night, let one person per night share in a relaxed manner during dinner. You might just find your family swept up in some of your most educational and inspiring conversations of the year.
Written on stone
Creating a thoughtful gift for someone else can bring out gratitude in even the grumpiest pilgrim. Purchase enough large river stones from your local garden shop or stone supplier so that each person in attendance for Thanksgiving will have one with their name on it. Be sure to pick up a couple extra, just in case. Scrub stones clean with soap and water and let dry. Paint stones on the top, sides, and bottom lip in an array of autumn colors. Across the top of each stone, write guest names in large letters with permanent markers or paint pens. Let dry completely then cut words that describe each guest out of old magazines. Apply words to rims of stones with Mod Podge and sponge brushes. After the words dry, add one more coat to the stone. When stones are again dry, cut and glue a piece of felt on the bottom. Use stones as placeholders at the Thanksgiving table and watch the proud grins.
Christina Katz is an author and freelance journalist. She feels grateful every time someone reads her words. Her latest book is The Writer’s Workout from Writer’s Digest Books.