As I reflect on last week and our Thanksgiving celebrations with family, especially with an impressionable toddler, I am reminded of the importance of teaching thanksgiving in children. Kids do not instinctively understand selflessness nor gratitude unless they are allowed to witness and practice those traits. So, I thought it prudent to consider how we can better teach our children to express thankfulness more than just every November.
While I have written about teaching kids to be thankful previously, I was challenged by something I saw on a video recently. The video went through the many things that we often take for granted, such as health, homes, food, family and so on. At the end, the word THANKSGIVING emerged onto the screen and slowly transformed into THANKSLIVING. This made such an impression on me as I considered how I can better demonstrate that in my life and also teach my son to do the same.
Here are four ideas that I am beginning to implement into weekly or monthly schedules so that it becomes a way of life, rather than a fleeting state of mind:
1. Random Acts of Kindness (RAOK) Day
Choose one day a week to become your RAOK Day. This can be something planned in advance, such as visiting soda machines in your city and taping quarters to the machines with a card that reads, “You have been RAOKed!” It can also be something very impromptu, such as ordering your meal from through a drive-thru and paying for the car behind you, too. Discuss with your child that you have the ability to make someone else feel good and you have a lot to be grateful for.
2. Blessing Bag
In the urban cities close to where we live (and sometimes drive), there are quite a few homeless and out of work individuals who sell candy bars, water or local newspapers on the streets. Many of them also look very hungry. Blessings Bags are a gallon ziploc bag filled with packaged foods (Handi-Snacks, cracker packs, granola bars, etc.), trial size toothpastes, toothbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, chewing gum, and a Capri-Sun drink. These can be stored under the front seat in a car and handed out whenever you see a person who could use a blessing. Explain to your child that it shows compassion and gratitude when you help someone who needs it, and all of the reasons you have to be thankful.
3. Thankful Thursday
Every Thursday, either at the dinner table or before bed, take turns telling everyone else what you are thankful for. It can be something from that day, the week, or something in general. This is a great example to set with your kids about how simple things are worth noticing. When I asked my three year old what he was thankful for, one of his answers was “our car.” While that would not have been something at the top of my list, it makes me see things from a child’s perspective, and I do acknowledge that there are many people who cannot afford a car or gas. It is eye-opening to hear what the rest of the family appreciates.
4. Gratitude Jar
When I was a kid, we had a lidded jar on our counter. Anytime we wanted, we could write down things we wanted to celebrate or remember on slips of paper and put them in the jar. At the end of the year, we would take them out and reflect back over all of the good things that happened to us. I like the idea of doing this on a monthly basis. For kids that can’t read or write, they can be encouraged to participate by narrating to a parent what should go in the jar, and choosing the slips out of the jar when they are read each month.
I love the idea of being intentional and purposeful about focusing on thanksliving all year long. The more children live with an example and attitude of appreciation early on, the more it becomes ingrained in their personality as they become adults. In difficult times, it is important to have a foundation of gratitude to fall back on.