Let’s face it—kids do not always feel grateful for everything they have. But just because they do not feel appreciative every minute of every day does not make them ungrateful.
And for better or for worse, if you constantly nag your kids with lines like, “Do you realize how lucky/fortunate/blessed you are?” they’ll just tune you out eventually.
An attitude of gratitude is something children need to be reminded to practice without excessive pressuring. In fact, if you can make searching for gratitude an opportunity for fun every year, everybody wins.
You may be surprised to learn that your kids are a lot more appreciative than you thought. And they might decide that discovering and expressing what they feel grateful for isn’t as much of a pain as they had imagined.
Make gratitude games an annual habit every Thanksgiving season. Here are five ways to motivate your kids to dig deep and rediscover an inner well of thankfulness without feeling put out.
1. Word Association
Let kids brainstorm a list of words that represent moments, memories, and things that naturally pop into their minds in response to the question, “What do I feel most grateful for?”
Family members can work alone or as a group. A parent can help a preschooler create a short, colorful list. School-age children may do better if given a number challenge like, “What are the top ten things you feel most grateful for this past year?” Keep the activity quick, fun, and light. Don’t treat it like an essay assignment unless you have a writer in the family, who would enjoy doing just that.
2. Photo Safari
Over the course of a fall weekend, give each child a turn with a digital camera or your camera phone. The assignment is to go around your house and yard snapping photos of things that make them feel happy.
These photos can include people, pets, nature, objects, places, and anything else they love. When you recover your camera, download a smattering of photos for each child into a collage format offered through your favorite local photo printing service.
Have each child title the document in his or her own words and hang photo collages near the Thanksgiving table. Plastic or magnetic frames make it easy to protect and store collages for next year.
3. Appreciation Postcards
Get a few packages of blank postcards and fine-point water-based markers from the art supply store. For young children, parents can address one side with names and addresses of family members in permanent ink, so important information won’t smear. Then, on the other side, ask kids to write a word that describes how they appreciate each family member and decorate the post card to match the sentiment. Make this an annual event and family members will look forward to their handmade postcards every year.
4. Lessons Learned
Life is full of opportunities for learning. Sometimes we learn things we can’t appreciate until later because the learning process is difficult, challenging or painful. Discussing these kinds of learning experiences raises an awareness of resiliency in kids and teaches them not to shirk challenges.
About a week before Thanksgiving, start a round robin of sharing tough lessons learned during the past year. Rather than having everyone share in one night, let one person volunteer to share during dinner in a relaxed manner. You might just find your family swept up in some of your most educational and inspiring conversations all year.
5. Written on Stone
Creating a thoughtful gift for someone else can bring out gratitude in even the grumpiest pilgrim. Purchase enough large river stones from your local garden shop or stone supplier so that each person in attendance for Thanksgiving will have one with their name on it. Pick up a couple extra, just in case. If you can’t find suitable stones, unfinished stone tiles would also work well for this project.
Scrub stones clean with soap and water and let dry. Paint stones on the top, sides, and bottom lip in an array of autumnal colors. Across top of each stone, write guest’s names in large letters with permanent markers or paint pens. Let dry completely, then cut words that describe each guest out of old magazines. Apply words to edges of stones with Mod Podge and sponge brushes. When stones are dry, cut and glue a piece of matching colored felt on the bottom. Use stones as placeholders at the Thanksgiving table and watch for proud grins.
Christina Katz is an author and freelance journalist. She feels grateful every time someone reads her words. Her latest book is The Writer's Workout from Writer’s Digest Books.