Something about November seems like an especially perfect time to acknowledge feeling thankful for all that we have. I mean, it’s always a good time to feel thankful, but around Thanksgiving there are so many opportunities to talk about it. Every day, I try to teach the children in my classroom about thankfulness, gratitude and generosity. These are things that I hope to instill in my own children, too.
Being able to show true gratitude has been linked to having better relationships and better physical and mental health. Being grateful enhances empathy and reduces aggression — and has even been linked to better sleep and improving self-esteem. All positive things!
Here are five ways to teach kids to feel thankful and be grateful:
Reading books is always a good start, especially when it comes to young children. Not only can you read the words on each page but at the end of the book you can start your own conversations about all the major takeaways. Some of my favorite titles about these topics are — The Giving Tree, The Thankful Book, An Awesome Book of Thanks, and Thankful.
I don’t like forcing kids to say “thank you”. Just like I hate when people make kids say “I’m sorry”. I think the words lose meaning once children are made to say them. But I do believe that if you, as the adult, model saying “thank you” consistently when necessary or appropriate that children will pick up on this and soon will learn when “thank you” is the right response.
When I ask children what they’re thankful for, most kids, immediately start boasting about their toys — “I’m thankful for my legos!” or “I’m thankful for my tablet!”. While that’s great — it’s important that children know the difference between a necessity (food, water, shelter, clothing) and a fun, convenience or an “extra” (toys, books, hair accessories, for example). In order for them to know this, you have to talk about it! Sure, it’s great to have a fancy sneakers but is it necessary? No. Kids should learn this. Let them know they are fortunate and that not all children have these same luxuries.
Share what you’re thankful for and make your statements genuine, truthful and about the necessities in life. I typically give examples. “I’m thankful I have a warm bed to sleep in”. “I’m thankful I’m able to have 3 meals a day”. “I’m thankful I have clean water to drink”. Once you get them on the right path, it’s pretty amazing what they’ll come up with.
5. Give back:
The difference between feeling thankful and being grateful is that one is a feeling (thankful) and one is an action (grateful). Kids are very capable of giving back and paying it forward. Donating their gently-used clothing or unused toys is a great way to begin the conversation of these two things. When children start to realize how much other people (especially other children) don’t have — they really start valuing what they have and they want to help others.