Halloween wasn't even over when our mailbox was getting stuffed with holiday catalogs. Before I could blink the kids were tearing through them circling all the things they were expecting to get this holiday. Their interest in getting “things" took over as they soon wanted every item on TV commercials as well. The “I want, I want, I want" comments became like nails on a chalkboard. I got so irritated at their whiny need for getting things – things they don't need and probably won't care about two minutes after they open them.
Where did their selfish attitude come from? What happened to their interest in helping others? Where was their gratitude? I know it's still in there somewhere because this “need" for stuff overcomes them every so often throughout the year (do we need so many birthday gifts?!) and it just takes a little retraining to get them back. I always try to refocus them on being thankful for what they have as gratitude is one characteristic I strongly want to instill in my children. Not only because it is polite, but research has shown that it helps to make a person happy, and happiness has been proven to help make people healthy.
Researchers at Harvard have been studying gratitude and happiness for decades and found that there is a “strong and consistent association" between the two. Another study from 2010 published in Clinical Psychology Review took a look at the role of gratitude in a person's well-being and the potential of interventions to help treat clinical disorders, such as PTSD or excessive worrying, with gratitude exercises. The researchers looked at a variety of individual differences in gratitude and well-being and, just like Harvard, stated a strong relationship with both. They also concluded that there is “potential of improving [ones] well-being through fostering gratitude with simple exercises."
So bring on exercises to help us be thankful! With kids that can be a challenge as their brains may not always be mature enough to understand how or why. Here are a few ways I found to be helpful in getting my kids back into the act of being grateful.
1 | Donate items
I often make the kids go through their toy bins and pick out a few items they have outgrown or don't play with much to donate to local shelters, the Salvation Army, or a similar charity. I like to bring them to make the donations when possible so they can hand over their bags of toys. It makes it more real for them.
2 | Send thank you notes
It may sound like a pain to your kid to write than you notes, but it is more about the process than the actual writing. I found two easy ways to get my small kids into it.
I recently used the Avery post card template and printed addresses on one side and a short thank you message on the other. My four-year-old had fun writing her name on each and loved putting them in the mailbox and her friend's school cubbies. You can play with fonts and add in pictures to make them party theme related. Smaller kids who can't write their names yet can scribble to add a personal touch.
For older kids, you could get thank you notes that are partially filled out so they just need to add the recipient's name, the present they received, and their name. We used something like these from Amazon for my son's birthday this year. Easy enough!
3 | Bring them to volunteer
We are lucky that our church holds a meal prep event for Aid for Friends each month. It makes it an easy place for us to pop in and have the kids help prepare food for those in need. But you don't need to be part of a church to find volunteering opportunities. Organizations like Create the Good can provide you with a list of opportunities based on your zip code.
4 | Daily affirmation cards
We often use these at bedtime and find that it's a great way to help kids think of positive things about themselves or what they can to for others.
5 | Random acts of kindness
We have recently worked this into our dinner discussion by having each person report one kind thing they did that day. Whether it is holding the door for someone or even talking about something that someone else did for them, they love giving their daily update. It's great to see how proud they are of their actions.
Thanksgiving and the meaning behind the holiday is a great way to kick off discussions with your kids about being grateful. So may the force be with you this holiday season – and try to get to the mailbox before your kids do!