Moms and dads everywhere are buoyed by thankful spirits in their children. Sometimes gratitude pours out of kids like water from the tap. More often, though, parents may need to creatively foster the growth of thankful little hearts.
Research shows there are two predominant ways to create a family environment that instills gratefulness. The first is through participating in simple gratitude-inducing activities as a family. The second is more outwardly directed, involving community awareness projects that offer gifts of service to the local or even global community.
The following list includes both approaches and can help foster feelings of appreciation, thankfulness and gratitude in your family.
1. Take an ABC Thankfulness Walk together. Bundle up and walk around your neighborhood, park or local arboretum with your family. Take turns giving thanks aloud using the letters of the alphabet as your guide. Let the youngest family member begin: I’m thankful for Aunt Kristin. Then, continue with older siblings: I’m thankful for baseball. I’m thankful for cookies ...
2. Share some gratitude with a bowl of M&Ms. Select a meal and place a large glass or crystal bowl in the center of the table filled with M&Ms (or other colorful candies). At the end of the meal have everyone take a handful of the goodies. Then, go around the table and have each family member share one thing—for each M&M they’ve taken—that they’re grateful for.
3. Learn a poem, song or prayer of thanksgiving. Reciting a poem or prayer or singing a song of gratitude can be an incredibly uplifting experience. If you’re looking for material, check out a poetry anthology or children’s CD from the library. Or you may want to check out the prayer book at your church or synagogue. You may even find good material on the Internet. Just do a search using the words: gratitude, children and poetry, music, prayers. Once you’ve selected the material, you may want to light a candle as your family sings your song or recites your poem together.
4. Create a Blessing Basket. Take some time to be thankful for things you have. From newspapers, magazines and store flyers, children and parents can clip out words or images of things that are personally meaningful or that matter to the family: a dog or a cat, a comfortable chair, a delicious-looking meal, a favorite toy, a place you’ve visited, an image from nature. Place the clippings of these images or written words in a Blessings Basket. At a convenient time for your family, perhaps during a meal or at bedtime, pull a few pictures or words out of the basket and express gratitude for them.
5. Serve your local or global community. There are many service-related opportunities available for families to do. You may want to help serve at a soup kitchen or with PADS to help the homeless. Or, your family could collect donations for World Vision or an organization like The Smile Train that funds cleft palate operations for needy children all over the world. It is amazing how giving to and serving others who may be experiencing difficulties can broaden our view of life and instantly cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
6. Modify a birthday or other celebration to help others. If your family is experiencing a time of surplus, consider passing on some of the prosperity. Some ideas include having friends bring canned goods for the local food pantry to your child’s party instead of toys. It is amazing how much joy children experience when they’re giving to others. And, when all of their friends pack your mini-van to overflowing with foodstuffs, the kids experience a huge sense of pride.
7. Compliment your kids when they’re grateful. Don’t feel strange saying "Thank you for saying thank you!" to your child. Anytime you notice a family member being appreciative or gracious, try to acknowledge their behavior. Gratefulness is contagious. When parents are appreciative, kids will be too.
If you decide to try some of these simple tips, you’ll be surprised at the depth and richness added to your family life.
Take your time, though. You may want to add one activity now and a couple more when they fit meaningfully into your schedule. Just a couple of small changes can bring a spirit of thankfulness home.
Sally Miller is co-author of Play with Me: Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey with Kids. She can be contacted at email@example.com.