Thanksgiving is more than eating a big meal, watching football, and gathering with others. Amidst the frenzy of this holiday, it is easy to forget what the holiday is about—being thankful. Here are some ways you can teach your child (and yourself) to be thankful.
Being Thankful Is Good for Us
Thankfulness is about acknowledging the goodness in your life. Research shows that being thankful or grateful is strongly associated with greater happiness, more positive emotions, better health, less worry, and positive relationships.
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One important study took three groups of people and gave them each the instruction to write each day for 10 minutes. Group one was to write about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. Group two was to write about irritations that displeased them, while group three was told to just write something. At the end of 10 weeks, the first group was measurably more optimistic, exercised more, had fewer physician visits, and felt better overall.
Research on children and thankfulness has similar outcomes. Being a thankful child improves a child’s physical and mental health and gives them a healthier outlook on life. Kids raised to be thankful at Thanksgiving, can learn to be thankful every day of the year.
Ways to Teach Kids to Be Thankful
- Teach your child to say “Thank you.” Many kids need increased awareness about when others do something for them. For example, “Wasn’t it nice that Grandma sent you a gift?” or “I noticed that your sister let you go first” and “Did you hear your teacher give you a compliment?” Then your child may need to be prompted to say thank you for all the many things that come their way.
- Write thank you notes often.
- Have family thankful projects. One idea is to have a thankful jar where everyone can put in a thankful note throughout the week. At family time, notes can be pulled out and shared.
- Develop thankful rituals. At dinner, your family can take turns saying what they are thankful for that day. Thankful rituals can also occur at bedtime, on the drive to school, on Saturday morning or whatever fits for your family.
- Your family can perform acts of kindness. Some families volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank. Others will mow a neighbor’s lawn, make cookies for friends, or call grandparents. Then it is important to notice how it feels to be told “Thank You!”
- Model being a thankful person yourself.
- Look for the silver lining. For example, when a soccer game is cancelled, one can be thankful to not stand in the rain, or if one fails a test, at least they had the chance to learn from the test and try again.
This Thanksgiving, take the opportunity to teach your child to be thankful not just on this holiday but throughout the year. We know that being a thankful child and adult leads to better physical and emotional states. Happy Thanksgiving!!!
—Sally Baird, PhD is a retired child psychologist and co-author of the book Shrinking the Worry Monster, A Kid’s Guide for Saying Goodbye to Worries.