Thanksgiving and teaching gratitude to kids

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Monday, November 11, 2013


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Thanksgiving is a time when we reflect on what we have to be grateful for in our lives. Indeed, gratefulness is the root of good mental health and spirituality, and instilling gratefulness in children at an early age will benefit them later in life and enhance their health and well being.

According to a 2003 study at the University of California at Davis, grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism, along with lower levels of depression and stress.

While Thanksgiving reminds us to count our blessings, the following activities can be utilized all year long to cultivate in children a life long habit of gratitude.

  • Encourage generosity. Donate clothes or toys to less fortunate children to encourage kids to have empathy for others and to appreciate what they have.
  • Write thank you notes. Encourage kids to write a thank you note to someone they are grateful for; have them hand decorate the note and then mail it.
  • Craft games involving gratitude. Pick leaves with children and then put them in a large bowl. Have kids pick a leaf from the bowl each morning and then write on it what they are grateful for that day. At the end of the week, use the leaves to decorate your table.
  • Find a goodwill project. Find a way to help others. For example, visit a local nursing home and bring some handmade fall decorations to hand out to the elderly. In Pacific Palisades, Sunrise Senior Living is a great place to go with children. Another idea is to volunteer at a homeless shelter. OPCC in Santa Monica is a safety net for low income and homeless youth, adults and families, as well as battered women and children.
  • Work gratitude into daily conversations. Try to get in the habit of saying what good things happened during the day. Share this at dinner as part of your family conversation, and encourage children to do the same.

Be patient when beginning to explore gratitude with young children, as this shift does not occur overnight.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers are by nature self-centered; however, by teaching gratitude to kids they will be more empathetic to others and less ego driven.

We all have things to be grateful for, and Thanksgiving is a great time of the year to practice that gratitude with the children in your life, and to nurture this all year round.

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