Since last Thanksgiving I have been challenging myself to try to be aware of and express the gratitude that I feel in my life on a daily basis. I have done it in mostly little ways like always ending my emails with "Grateful." This really annoys many of my friends and family and just confused others. But I am truly sincere. In the world we live in, where we are all so busy and constantly bombarded by information, I am truly grateful that my friends, family and colleagues take the time to read my emails and respond. I have tried to be kinder to my body by having less judgment about how it looks and more awareness of what it is trying to tell me. I have tried to connect more with my friends new and old and let them know how grateful I am for them. Still I have puzzled over how to explain gratitude and help my children embrace it and put it into action in their lives at their many different ages and phases in life. (I have four children ranging in age from 18 to 9 months.) As quaint and 'cheesy' (my children's term for it) as it may sound, I want them to think about gratitude and be able to express what in their lives they are thankful for more than just the once a year on Thanksgiving that we go around the table and all express it. I think that most of us subscribe to this, or some version of it, and the answers are inevitably about the same things: I am grateful for... my health/body... my food/ the meal...my friends and family...my education/job.
I know there are many other things to be grateful for but these basics are a good place to start putting gratitude to action every single day.
1) Being Grateful for your Health/Body:
Yoga for kids and people of all ages stretches and tones the body and helps you get in touch with the messages the body is sending. It is a great way to express gratitude for your body. There are yoga classes for kids in communities across the country, or another great resource is "Yoga for Children" by Mary Stewart and Kathy Phillips.
Helping kids express gratitude for their health in a more global way is through being of service. There are many wonderful organizations that have volunteer opportunities for children in this area, but one of my favorites is Cookies for Kid's Cancer (www.cookiesforkidscancer.org). This organization raises money for kids with cancer and research.
2) Being Grateful for Your Food/Meals:
A great way for kids to have gratitude for the food/meals that they eat is to grow something with them that they like to eat. Even something as simple as a bean sprouting into a plant can show them the work and care that goes into everything that they eat. At the web site below you can find easy indoor growing kits.
It is important to talk to your children about how many people in all of our communities and around the world go hungry every day. A great way for them and the family to put gratitude into action in the community is to donate throughout the year to local food banks and organizations feeding the needy. Food banks across the country are experiencing a need greater than they have ever known and are having trouble supplying the food needed. You can find a food bank in your community on the following web site.
3) Being Grateful For Education:
A great way to foster gratitude for education and teachers is to find something that your child knows how to do and have them teach you, a younger sibling or friend. Help them make a lesson plan and write out steps. My ten-year-old son is learning how to create his own web sites and I am having him teach me step-by-step. What is so easy for him is hard for me and he is beginning to understand the patience and understanding that teachers have to have to teach. It has given him a new appreciation for his own teachers.
It is also a great idea to encourage your child to donate old books to literacy programs or books drives or get them involved in projects that help fund schools or parts of schools for children around the world. There is a great web site that helps children find projects like this to support: www.gocampaign.org.
4) Being Grateful for Family & Friends:
One way to help foster an every day feeling of gratitude for others is to have your child make a list of all the people in their life that they are grateful for. Then encourage them to tell these people once of month, "I just wanted you to know that I am so grateful for you." There have actually been studies that Dr. Andrew Weil sites in his new book on happiness that show the more gratitude that you express to others the happier and healthier you will actually be. For more information of the connection between happiness and gratitude check out Weil's site.
Another way to foster gratitude for friends and family is to find a local nursing home to visit and encourage your child just to talk to the residents. My children have done this with their classes at school and been amazed and humbled by how grateful the residents are for their company. The following website offer great information and insight about visiting nursing homes with young people.
Faulkner once wrote that "gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all." I hope that this helps you feel charged and ready to be gratitude-in-action and help your children feel and share their gratitude all year round.
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