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Teaching Thankfulness: Giving Lessons in Gratitude to Children

The bustle and glow of the holiday season brings lots of joy. It’s the season of gifts, the season of family, and the season for lessons. One of the greatest lessons we can teach our children, is that of gratitude. Granted, this is something we probably teach in small ways throughout the entire year, but the holiday season can give extra examples and perspectives, that we can then share with the little ones.

thankfulObviously, Thanksgiving is a holiday surrounded by the idea of gratitude, but it’s something that can definitely be spread out over the entire month of November, and the whole holiday season and beyond. Thankfulness is something that can often be above small children’s heads, but instilling the beginnings of the idea and activities that highlight, can often bring awareness to the idea of gratitude as children grow older.

Teaching this lesson does not have to be elaborate and can be done in small ways. Here are some ways to teach children about thankfulness and gratitude:

1. Thankfulness Chart

A simple way to discuss thankfulness is to fill in a chart over the 30 days in November. You can use this free printable! Each day, ask your child what they were thankful for that day. If they aren’t sure, you can guide them with questions such as:

  • What was something nice that happened to you today?
  • Did someone surprise you with an action or words?
  • Did you get something or learn something today?

Children will often surprise you with the things that they are thankful for. Once, I asked my son what made him happy and his answer was, “When you hug me.” Sometimes, asking them something as simple as that will show you the things that your children are thankful for, even if they can’t quite articulate it yet.

2. Thankfulness Jar

This idea is a little less rigid than the chart. You can do jars for individual family members, or just one giant jar for the family. It’s fun to then open the jars and read them on Thanksgiving and discuss what the slips of paper say. Children who can’t write will not be independent with this activity, but can easily participate with help. However, older children are able slip in things without you seeing and are often a great surprise when you read them as a family.

3. Books About Gratitude

Sometimes the best way to teach children, is to simply read them a story. By reading several books on the topic of thankfulness and gratitude, children are sure to pick up on the theme. Some of our favorites include:

  • Biscuit is Thankful by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
  • Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
  • Thank You, Thanksgiving by David Milgrim
  • The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks by Jan and Mike Berenstain
  • Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
  • Llama Llama Gives Thanks by Anna Dewdney

There are also a great selection of books that teach about gratitude and thankfulness and can be used year round:

  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • An Awesome Book of Thanks by Dallas Clayton
  • Just so Thankful by Mercer Mayer
  • Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora
  • The Blessings Jar by Colleen Coble
  • Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

4. Volunteering/Donating

Another great way to teach thankfulness is to take our children to volunteer. By seeing others in need, children are often able to focus on the things that they do have versus the things that they don’t have. It’s a great way to begin the conversation on the things that we are thankful for in our lives and what we have been blessed with. If you are unsure of where you can volunteer, the United Way of East Central Iowa is a great place to start your research!

Donating can also be a way of exposing your children to the idea of being grateful. You can have your children help you go through their toys and belongings to donate to a local shelter. Explain why people may be living in a facility like that. You can also join an organization that allows you to adopt a family or child. This way, your child would be actively helping you with choosing toys for a child who probably does not have the amount of toys your child does, and explaining the importance of giving and being thankful for the things they do have.

5. Leading by Example

Sometimes we forget that our children watch everything that we do. By taking the time to look at ourselves and if we are showing gratitude and thankfulness, our children may begin to acknowledge what those very things mean simply by seeing. It’s always important to count your blessings, and by sharing those things with your children and talking about it, will help teach them the different ways that they can express these things themselves.

Gratitude is a something that we should always be striving to instill in ourselves and our children. We can teach gratitude in so many ways and help give the lesson of thankfulness to the next generation.

In what ways do you express gratitude in your home?
What lessons have you taught in your family?

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