Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 7, 2005, Herald Journal

Teaching gratitude all year long


Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year to celebrate time spent with family and enjoy a festive holiday meal with loved ones, but it is also a time of year to think about the many blessings that we have.

The website www.knowledgehound.com notes that Thanksgiving is a special time to give thanks not just for the obvious, such as food, but for the fortunate moments and the multitude of blessings that we receive each year. Making thankfulness and gratitude a daily habit is beneficial for everyone, including our children.

We want our children to be appreciative and thoughtful, so below are some tips to help us and our children inspire an “attitude of gratitude” all year. Teaching our children to attain this attitude of thankfulness will require repeated efforts over a long period of time, but it is well worth the effort.

Tips to inspire an ‘attitude of gratitude’

• Keep a gratitude journal, in which only positive things are written down, keeping mindful of the many things that we are blessed with on a daily basis. Our children can have their own journals, and if they can’t write, they can draw pictures.

• Here is a neat idea from familyfun.com, entitled, “Say It With Feathers,” by Debra P. Mead in Washington. Have children make a turkey, minus the feathers, out of construction paper. Glue to a piece of poster board, cover with contact paper, post on the wall, and cut out orange, red, and yellow feathers (or whatever colors your children like) – enough feathers for each family member for each day in November.

After dinner, or at some point in the early evening when your family is together, have each person in ther family write (or draw) what he or she is thankful for and tape the feathers onto the turkey. Continue this task throughout November.

As the days go on, the Blessing Turkey, as the Mead family calls it, will become full of feathers and will help keep everyone mindful of the many blessings received. What a grand idea. I think my family will try this.

• And, of course, in order for our children to adopt an attitude of thankfulness, we must first have that attitude and model gracious manners and behavior ourselves, as adults. We need to focus on and be fortunate for what we have versus what we don’t have, and verbalize thankfulness. If we are constant complainers of bad fortune, our children will be, too, and will grow up with that attitude, as well.

• Think about the people, animals, and places that have given you joy and make you smile. Give thanks for all of these things, and, the website says, “pass it on,” because true gratitude involves action.

So pitch in. Lend a hand. Help a neighbor out. Give your time. Make a gift. Give out a friendly smile and a greeting. And let your children see you do these acts of kindness, and involve them, too.

• Have your children make thank you cards and give the cards to someone special. Your children can write and/or verbalize thank-yous after they receive gifts and acts of kindness from others. This sets a good pattern of acting on thankfulness for the future.

We can model saying thank you to our spouses, family members, our children, and others. Remember to say thank you to your children when they have done something that you appreciate.

On a website that focuses on teaching children about gratitude,, child therapist and director of the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development in Brooklyn, Neri Wallace explains that before age seven, children, developmentally, have difficulty understanding how other people feel or that their own actions affect others, and that empathy is the cornerstone of appreciation. It takes years before children are able to think beyond their own wants and needs. Thus, we need to keep a child’s developmental age in mind in our expectations.

The website further notes a crucial point in teaching children about gratitude, that children have to feel loved and cared for themselves, before they can really have concern for other’s feelings. Children must have their emotional needs met first before they can think beyond themselves and their own needs.

Let’s love and care for our children and all children – that’s what they deserve. Be mindful of appropriate expectations, and, the website notes, we should accept our children’s hugs and kisses as forms of gratitude.

• Teach our children to pray. Say blessings at the dinner table, at bedtime, or anytime throughout the day. Prayer reminds all us of that what we have are gifts, and helps us all develop and show that we have thankful hearts.

The first Thanksgiving

Do you know that Thanksgiving is traced back to the year 1623? Catherine Millard wrote on the website www.christiananswers.net that after the harvest crops were gathered in November of that year, Governor William Bradford of the 1620 Pilgrim Colony in Plymouth proclaimed that all Pilgrims, with their wives and young ones, should gather at the Meeting House to listen to the pastor and render “Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.”

This was the origin of the Thanksgiving Day celebration.

May we find something to be thankful for every day, and help others to find celebration, as well.

And let’s love our children so they, too, can find grace.