Thanksgiving is a meaningful time for many families across the country. For me, it's a time to reflect on, and to give thanks for, life's bountiful gifts. Along with empathy, understanding the importance of expressing gratitude is something that you can actually teach your child, and Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to start.
Here are some tips to help you foster gratitude in your child.
1. Be what you want to see.
Make a point to express gratitude in the presence of your child. Let your child hear you saying "Thank you!" to the person who holds open the door for you at the post office, and the grocery store checker. Talk about how grateful you are for clear skies on your morning walk together. Take your child with you to drop off a thank you gift to your friend. The more your child sees gratitude built into your life, the more likely he will be to incorporate it intrinsically into his own daily life.
2. Give your child a gratitude journal.
You can purchase a simple lined journal, or even make one from a stack of stapled blank paper. Inscribe a special message from you to your child in the inside cover, and help your child get into the practice of writing one to five things that he is grateful for each day. These can be simple one-word answers or full sentences, and be sure your child knows that there are no wrong answers.
3. Set aside time to write in your gratitude journals together.
While you are having your morning tea and your child is enjoying a healthy breakfast, sit down at the kitchen table together and simultaneously write in your gratitude journals. He will see the importance you place in giving thanks each day, and he will start to have the same respect and understanding of gratitude in his own life.
4. Talk about it.
I encourage each family to have family meetings once a week, using my empathic process. Choose a neutral space such as the kitchen, the heart of the home where alchemy happens, and allow each member to have a turn discussing specific events or concerns that week, without judgment. This is also a good time to express gratitude; ending the meeting by acknowledging something or someone to be thankful for helps everyone leave on a positive note, and also helps to further instill a sense of gratitude in your child.
5. Help your child find deeper values and goals.
Help your child think about the world around him, and ask him from time to time what he thinks is truly important in life. Encourage him to help others, even in the smallest of ways, and to find value in non-materialistic items. Teaching him to value people and goals that go beyond wealth or fame helps him feel a sense of gratitude for the friendships and community in his life.
In life, empathy, kindness and gratitude go hand in hand. The earlier you help teach your child to have these qualities, the more it will become second nature to his life. Fostering a deep sense of gratitude early on can help give your child a wonderful perspective on life, one that includes giving thanks well beyond the Thanksgiving holiday.