Teaching Gratitude to our Children for the Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, celebrating gratitude is easy to remember.  But what about when it’s not Thanksgiving and it’s just an ordinary day?  What part does gratitude play in our lives then?

As we sit in front of our turkey dinner, we may feel grateful for a variety of things: a happy family, robust health, a loving partner, or even, in this current economic situation, a job.  The last thing on our minds is probably the stranger who kindly held a door for you or the server who brought you dinner one night.

Most parents are very good at teaching their children to say “please” and “thank you.”  These are good manners, but does it really teach children an understanding of what gratitude is and how it impacts our mental health, daily attitude, and even physical well-being?  It’s challenging enough to teach children the concept of gratitude.  That challenge is even greater when addressing gratitude with a special-needs child.

When showing gratitude, it is important to help children connect doing grateful things with positive feelings.  With special-needs children, this is particularly helpful as understanding gratitude is an abstract concept, but if we are doing things together that show gratitude, it’s easier to understand when we make the connection between gratitude and how it makes us feel very clear.

How do we do that?  When teaching kids about gratitude, especially special-needs kids, it’s important to be a little creative in helping them understand how gratitude makes us feel good.  For example, when you’re doing a grateful activity, have the child draw a picture about how it makes them feel or have a chart with pictorial representations of feelings to help identify how gratitude makes us feel good.

Here are some easy ways for families to practice gratitude:

  1. Write a heartfelt thank you to someone who has done something nice for you.
  2. When it snows, shovel your walkway and the neighbor’s.
  3. Share some cookies that you just baked together.
  4. For the holidays, make homemade gifts and give them in person.
  5. Hug frequently – giving a hug is a simple way to show gratitude and we can all do it.

Our relationships with others are what enhance our lives and make us happy.  By practicing gratitude as a family and doing kind gestures together, everyone benefits, especially when we are making the connection between showing gratitude and feeling good very, very clear.

Gratitude Resources:

The Most Thankful Thing by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore (Oct 1, 2004)

Henry’s Life As A Tulip Bulb or Developing an Attitude of Gratitude by Linda M. Brandt (Apr 20, 2008)

Gratitude Soup: Create Your Own by Olivia Rosewood (May 20, 2010)

G-Bugs, The Gratitude Bugs;Sam Meets Caterpillar Kaleb by Jackie Jones, Mike Muxlow and George Athanasiou (Dec 4, 2007)

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-bytes/200911/cultivating-attitude-gratitude

http://www.todoinstitute.org/library/public/cultivating_gratitude_an_interview_with_robert_emmons_phd.php

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