Thanksgiving and Beyond: Gratitude All Year Long

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As Thanksgiving approaches, we often reflect on the things in our lives for which we are thankful, both big and small. Perhaps you have developed “thankful rituals” and passed those on to your children, such as making lists of all the reasons to feel gracious and thankful to share with the rest of the family during the Thanksgiving feast. How quickly that attitude of gratitude can turn into commercialization and mile-long wish lists of the holiday season. By the time we ring in the New Year, we have often forgotten about Thanksgiving and the thankful attitude that accompanies it. It is easy to lose thankfulness in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but there are some things we can do and things we can model for and encourage our children to do that will foster thankfulness all year long.

  • Keep a daily Gratitude Journal. At the end of each day, write down two or three things in your gratitude journal. Help your children to create their own journals, and encourage them to participate. This activity can be a great addition to the bedtime ritual, and it teaches your children to be reflective of the day. Very young children might need help with the writing, but they can certainly draw pictures to accompany your words. Feeling gracious every day for the good things that happen in our lives can help to foster an overall positive outlook and optimistic attitude. Once you have maintained a journal for a full year, it can be fun to read the things for which you were thankful the year before in addition to writing new things for the current year. You can also do a project as a family such as My Family’s Thankful Book.
  • Make “Thank You” a frequent part of your interactions. How often do we say, “Thank you?” We might ask our children to do things, such as pick up their toys or wash their hands before dinner; but, how often do we then thank them for following these directions? How often do we thank them for displaying proper table manners, for sharing their toys with each other nicely, or getting dressed by themselves? As parents, we have to model the kinds of behaviors we want to see in our children. Therefore, thank them sincerely and often! Reinforce them, as well, when they thank you and other adults, as well as when they thank each other.
  • Write real “Thank You” notes. Encourage your children to write thank-you notes for all gifts they receive throughout the year. Keep a box of thank-you notes handy, or create some out of nice paper and colored pencils. Stock stamps and envelopes as well. Point out those occasions when people treat either you or your child especially well, such as a waitress, a cashier, the mailman, a relative, or a teacher. Together, you and your child can recognize these “random acts of kindness” with a real thank-you note. It will brighten someone’s day and teach your child the importance of saying, “Thank you.”
  • Show Anonymous appreciation to local heroes. Two or three times over the course of the year, you and your child can pick a “local hero” to recognize with a token of your appreciation. An easy thing to do is have your child help you bake a cake, cupcakes, or cookies and deliver them along with a note of gratitude. The following list contains possible “local heroes”:
    • Police officers
    • Firemen
    • EMS workers
    • Postal workers
    • Workers at the animal shelter

In addition to brightening someone’s day, you can also teach your child a valuable lesson in the kinds of services these people provide, and why they deserve our thanks.

  • Practice self-appreciation. Appreciate your self by giving your bodies and minds proper care. We do this by getting enough sleep, eating balanced diets, getting plenty of rest, keeping our minds appropriately stimulated, and having time for play. Model these behaviors for your children and encourage them to take care of themselves physically and mentally.

These are just a few ideas for keeping an attitude of gratitude all year long, not just during the Thanksgiving season. Remembering often to take care of ourselves, to recognize the positive influences others have in our life, and to appreciate things that others do for us will not only keep us gracious, but will model these behaviors and attitudes for our children.