Teaching children to be thankful and to express gratitude can be extremely challenging. Children, by nature, are self-centred; primarily holding the needs of themselves above the needs of others. Gratitude is especially important. Not only does it make children more polite and socially respectable, but it also helps them to develop empathy and the ability to see life through the eyes of others. Studies show that individuals who are more grateful are also happier (source). I would venture to guess that it is nearly impossible to feel thankful and upset at the same time.
Unfortunately, children are not born grateful. To instil a sense of thankfulness within our children we need to start the learning process young. Even my 18 month old is encouraged to partake in giving back opportunities. By that age, children have begun to develop a sense of self and understand the idea that they are separate from others, and therefore it is a good time to begin teaching what it means to be grateful. Although it is a natural starting place to teach gratitude by modelling it as adults, we can’t expect that this alone will be enough. Just as we would teach any other foundational skill, we need to create opportunities to practice gratitude, breaking down tasks into smaller more manageable components, and making it applicable and age appropriate for your children.
Below are 5 gratefulness activities that my kids completed during the Thanksgiving week. We started by brainstorming what we are thankful for and, from there, we thought of ways we could give back that related to these ideas.
1) I am thankful for my family.
Cook dinner with Mommy and take Lulu for a walk. This was an easy starting point for my kids as they truly are thankful for their family. We thought of ways they could help out and Maelle came up with these two ideas. This was great because cooking dinner and caring for Lulu are things she already does regularly, so it provided her with concrete examples of gratitude that even she doesn’t normally connect with showing thankfulness.
2) I am thankful for all the activities I get to do.
Donate books to the library. Maelle and Linden take part in a lot of activities. When they said they were grateful for being able to do activities, we thought of places they often go that would benefit from a display of thankfulness. Maelle quickly thought of the library as we have been going there since she was 6 months old. She said we could buy books for the other kids and I thought this was a great idea! We went shopping, picked out books that were age appropriate for four and one year olds, and dropped them off at the Calgary Reading House.
3) I am thankful for my teachers.
Write a thank you card to my teachers. Maelle loves her preschool so this came to mind quickly after we discussed her favourite activities. Maelle loves drawing and writing so she was thrilled to get to write a card for her teachers. A simple, free way to say thank you that can also be so impactful.
4) I am thankful for my neighbourhood.
Pick up garbage. We recently moved and the kids are thrilled with our new area. We thought picking up trash would be the perfect way to keep our neighbourhood beautiful and would cost us absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, the snow made this slightly more challenging than expected, but we were still able to collect a bag of garbage just within our community.
5) I am thankful for the food in my belly.
Donate food to people who don’t have any. I guided Maelle to think of things she needs to stay healthy and she was able to think of food. This progressed to a discussion about how not every person has enough food. We talked about different organizations that help feed people who are hungry, discussed how the food bank works, and the importance of food donations that allow these organizations to keep operating.
Like most parents, I am teaching gratitude every single day without even thinking about it. However, carving out time to take on specific tasks with my children is a great way to really highlight all that we are thankful for. Doing this with my children is as much a lesson for them as it is a reminder to me to show gratitude every single day; for we are very lucky.