Thankfulness Beyond Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches, children are often reminded to think about what they’re grateful for. While focusing on gratitude this special day of the year is important, what we’d really like to do as parents is instill a sense of thankfulness in our kids every day. Therapists agree that cultivating an attitude of gratitude in children early on will help them develop into adults prepared for life’s realities. Here are their tips for promoting gratefulness in our children all year long.

Create a secure environment 

“Parents need to create an environment of emotional and physical security so that kids can develop an internal sense of that well-being with their parents,” said Stephen J. Boyd, PhD, licensed clinical counselor at Growth Spirit Counseling in Cincinnati.

Feeling emotionally stable at home will give children a basis to feel grateful – especially critical between birth and eight years. Boyd suggests that parents read The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky to learn more about creating an emotionally stable home environment.

Make it routine 

Adding a moment of thankfulness to your daily routine will encourage children to recognize just how much they have to be grateful for. At bedtime, before a meal or while saying a prayer each person in the family can share one thing they are thankful for that day. This could be something as simple as earning a good grade on a test or being happy for a sunny day. Large or small, making a point to acknowledge these sorts of things will teach children to be aware of the positives in their lives.

“Another strategy with kids and families is to start a ‘good stuff’ book,” said Lynne Merk, PhD and clinical psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “This is a place where kids and families can write down good things from each day to create a running record of what’s happened in their lives.” Let children decorate or add photos to a “good stuff” book to make it a family keepsake.

If you have an attitude of ingratitude your children are unfortunately likely to develop the same set of values. “Parents are a child’s primary teachers so if they’re trying to make their children more thankful, they have to model that for them,” Merk said.

Do you express thanks for what you have? Are you thanking your children for what they do and who they are? Expressing gratitude to your children for small things, like picking up their toys, will reward both them and you. Children crave such reinforcement and will increase their responsibilities on their own if they are praised for doing so.

Say “no”

One of the best ways to develop a sense of gratitude is to tell your children “no” once in a while. For parents, this can be difficult at times. It’s a natural instinct to want to say “yes” to our kids’ desires, but in the end, we can be doing them a disservice. Having children earn a reward, instead of it being handed to them, can increase how much they appreciate it.

Share with others

Participating in volunteer projects can help your children realize just how much they have – and the importance of sharing what they have with others. You can also ask your kids what changes they would like to see in the world so that others can feel gratitude too, says Boyd.

As Thanksgiving comes and goes this November, try using a few of these suggestions to make being grateful a part of your family culture all year long

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