We all love the Thanksgiving celebration—enjoying a meal with family, sharing pleasant memories, and creating new ones. But Thanksgiving is also a time to reflect on our many blessings and to remember those who are less fortunate. Cultivating this “attitude of gratitude” all year long benefits adults and kids alike. We teach our kids to say thank you, and that’s important, but truly instilling a sense of gratitude in them is another matter entirely. Gratitude goes beyond good manners—it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.
Why is gratitude so important? First of all, being grateful is healthy for us. A study by the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by about 25 percent. It also helps us to live more satisfied lives and enjoy increased levels of self-esteem, empathy, and optimism. Gratitude fosters stronger, more constructive relationships, too. Fundamentally, gratitude is about being aware of who or what makes positive aspects of our lives possible, acknowledging it, and showing appreciation for it. When kids learn to think in those terms, they begin to appreciate what they have rather than focusing on what they wish they had.
So how can you help your children learn to live gratefully? Here are ten tips to start cultivating gratitude in your household:
- Create daily or weekly routines. A regular question such as, "What are you most thankful for today?" can serve as a comforting routine at bedtime or the highlight of a weekly dinner ritual.
- Keep a family “appreciation journal”. Place it in a central location so that everyone can make entries throughout the year, and then read it aloud together on Thanksgiving.
- Make giving a habit. Encourage your children to donate their used clothing, toys, or part of their earned money or allowance to a charity. Talk about the process and why it matters.
- Say "thank you” often and with sincerity. When "thank yous" are instilled in the vocabulary at home, a lifelong practice begins, even if it doesn't stick at first.
- Encourage them to “celebrate their years” with gratitude. On your children’s birthdays, suggest they make a list of the things they have been thankful for over the past year. A five-year-old can think of five things, while a 10-year-old should come up with ten, and so on.
- Set an example. Show appreciation by conveying that you paid attention to your kids’ efforts. "Your room looks so nice and tidy with of your toys in the toy box and your clothes in the closet. Thank you putting everything away.”
- Thank those who serve. Your example of acknowledging those who quietly make a difference in your life, from the school bus driver to the busboy at your family’s favorite restaurant, sends a powerful message to your children.
- Limit birthday and Christmas gifts. Yes, it means your kids will probably receive less than many of their friends do, but it’s important to be intentional with the gift-giving process. If you emphasize the traditions and togetherness of these holidays, and don’t make a big deal about the gifts, it will help your children focus on what’s important.
- Keep thank you notes on hand. There are loads of opportunities throughout the year for kids to recognize and thank those who have done something special for them. Writing and sending thank you notes is a perfect way to encourage your kids to express gratitude. And as an added bonus, it can make the recipient’s day!
- Volunteer with your kids. Volunteering can be a dynamic, rewarding way to bring everyone in your household together. Whether you’re organizing a clothing drive, caring for animals at a shelter, or sharing your time with RAACE, what better way to teach your kids about the true meaning of giving than to volunteer with them?
Kids can't be commanded into showing appreciation, but over time, your gentle efforts and positive examples will instill gratitude as a way of life.
Join RAACE by becoming a RAACE Fan and/or subscribing to our monthly newsletter and inviting those within your child's circle of trust to join in the fight against and prevention of child sexual abuse! Visit RAACE.org today or call 1.800.755.KIDS.