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Thanksgiving: Getting kids to feel grateful

When was the last time your kids looked around at the glorious bounty that surrounds them and expressed appreciation? Yeah, stop laughing. We figured as much. But with Thanksgiving upon us, maybe it’s time to teach our kids how to, well, be thankful for everything they have.

You can actually teach your kids to appreciate their good fortune, and don’t be surprised to find that you reconnect with your own positive attitude on the way.


Lead by example.

Here’s the most important rule to remember: kids do what you do. If you constantly open the fridge and mutter, “There’s nothing to eat,” that’s the attitude your kids will adopt. So change your own habits.

Make a conscious effort to express aloud your gratitude for what you have. “It’s a good thing I have my trusty raincoat and umbrella. Look at the weather!” or “I’m so glad this sofa is big enough for our whole family to sit on together,” for example.


Help your kids notice what they have.

Just as you can sometimes stare into a fridge full of food and find nothing, your kids may at times have difficulty recognizing what’s right in front of them. So if they come to you and complain that they have “no toys,” give some specific suggestions. “Remember that art project Gramma sent last week? Let’s get that out and see what we can make.”

If your family says a prayer before eating, talk about why you do that and what it means. But remember that gratitude doesn’t have to come from religion — it’s fine to start each meal by thanking the chef, table setter, and dish washer!


Get out and give.

Kids who grow up in the land of middle class plenty often have trouble understanding the concept of real poverty. So take your kids to a homeless shelter with old coats, blankets, toys, and canned goods. Involve them in every step of the process — from choosing gently used (or new!) items to donate, to preparing the packages, to the eventual drop-off. Let them get at least a glimpse of what it really means to be without.

You can help your kids learn that material goods aren’t the only thing that matters by volunteering in a nursing home or a hospital. Spending time with people who are lonely or sick can help kids readjust their priorities.


Make a family commitment to change.

If you want to see positive changes in your family, you’ll all need to commit to making it happen. During dinner, have each person describe the best thing that happened that day, one thing he or she is grateful for, or one person he or she wants to thank for something. Once a week, sit down and write a thank you note to someone for something — even something small. Find opportunities to express gratitude, and you’ll start to notice them more and more. And by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you and your kids will have a renewed sense of appreciation.


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