Monday, November 21, 2011

Gratitude on Thanksgiving: How to teach our kids

3054664103_dbbc66c47e_z[1] (2)-giving thanks

Photo: jenna nelson photography

A day to role model for our kids… about counting our blessings

Thanksgiving is almost here and soon we’ll all be sitting down at our dinner tables to enjoy our annual feast of turkey and stuffing. We will be spending time with our families and friends on a holiday that’s completely focused on one value: gratitude. So it’s the one time of the year when this topic can be easily slipped into our discussions, without the sense of it being completely corny, artificial or ‘forced.’  As a mom of teenagers, I love this fact. That’s because I happen to believe that being thankful for what we have at any given moment is the key to living a great life, and I want my kids to learn this.

As a parent, it’s a challenge. How do you teach your children the meaning of gratitude, so that it’s not simply some polite, intellectual idea, but an actual behavior they can practice in their lives? Because my humble motherly hope is this: someday when my boys are launched and living their own grown-up lives, I want them to know the emotional affects that happen when you slow down and reflect on the smallest, easy-to-take-for-granted things in your life.

Even in tough times I want my kids to have the deeply engrained ability to appreciate what they have in the moment, and to know the difference in value between “material things” and people. Because we are always fortunate, even lucky to have material stuff, but we are truly blessed when we have real things in our lives of substance; such as a loving, warm family. Sincere, supportive relationships. People in your life that you can trust and turn to during tough times. Personal integrity. A spiritual life.

And in case you didn’t realize, the field of psychology has confirmed that practicing gratitude has positive effects on your physical body and your mental health.

Research on Gratitude-   Robert Emmons a professor from the University of California at Davis has confirmed how the simple act of keeping a gratitude journal makes you more optimistic, improves your heart rhythms and sleep, and reduces physical symptoms such as headaches and colds.  Click HERE for more information.

Begin with You (What do your kids see?)

There are no easy shortcuts to teaching the value of gratitude, and certainly nothing magical will happen after only one day. Values are internalized over time and the most powerful teachers are parents. I recently stumbled on to a website that offered a quickie Thanksgiving and Gratitude Quiz that I found provocative for one reason. It made me stop and reflect on MY feelings and the associations I have with Thanksgiving. It reminded me that our kids come to their own conclusions about a particular holiday based on what they “see” and experience around them.

You can follow this link to read about this short Thanksgiving-Gratitude Quiz.

But in the meantime, let’s try this quickie gratitude test.

Take this test

Imagine your version of the “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re like me chances are that you’ve spent some time and energy into making your table look special and pretty. There is a pretty centerpiece and your nice dishes and possibly you’ve bought a new tablecloth. You’ve also spent time in grocery lines, poured over your recipes and cleaned your home.

So of course, you’re expecting this:


Now close your eyes.

And whatever lovely, perfect image you had of your upcoming Thanksgiving dinner….let it GO.

It’s all about the expectations

That’s right. That perfect Thanksgiving dinner that you’re hoping for?  Let it all go.

Instead, expect that the turkey cooks slowly and some of the food gets cold. Expect that your most difficult relative says something rude. And expect that the kids are bickering though out the day.

And imagine that you are perfectly happy with it all. And that you’re still feeling grateful. Because the truth is, it’s all about expectations. If you stop expecting perfection you’ll be able to feel thankful for what you actually have. You’ll be happier.

And what about all your hard work? The lovely tablescape you sweated over and perfected?  The answer? Be grateful for your sense of generosity to others. If you took pains to make things special for your Thanksgiving guests, you can be grateful for your values of family, and home and tradition. You’re a wonderful role-model.

And what about that rude comment? Ask yourself this one question about your outrage: Did I really expect something different? And if so, WHY?  Maybe it’s time to stop being surprised when our difficult relatives keep acting the same way. I’ve found that once I stop reacting to ‘the same old thing,’ I’m also able to see the other person more clearly. Because the deeper truth is, that a consistently ‘difficult’ person is suffering in some way. It’s something to think about, don’t you agree?

Now here are some pretty ideas I’ve collected for you that you might incorporate into you Thanksgiving day.

I hope you enjoy these.

Pretty things with an important message


Website: style me pretty

This photo actually shows a “wishes” tree that is often used at weddings, but can easily become a tree filled with messages of gratitude. Simple tags are provided in a basket for guests to write down something they’re thankful for, and then they slip it on the tree. Click HERE for some easy DIY directions for your family’s own thanksgiving tree.



Here each guest gets a special thank you written on a scroll and left at their place setting

river rocks with messageThanksgiving%20centerpiece%20from%20rocks,%20pots%20and%20moss%20(BHG) poshposh

photo: google images, BHG

 Flat river rock are transformed into personal messages. Afterwards, you can place these on a platter amid simple candles.

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Photo: the apartment therapy

This idea of a Thanksgiving altar appeared on the Apartment Therapy website. Basically, you create an area where objects of special meaning are placed. Thanksgiving guests can add a photo or small object that expresses gratitude for someone, or something, or even a  situation going on in their life. Examples might be a recent wedding photo to celebrate the addition of a new family member, or even a business card that represents a first job or new business venture. If a family member is absent for any reason, you might include their photo as a loving gesture.

countryliving photo idea

photo: country living

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Photo: stylelist

Another version of a Thanksgiving Gratitude tree that is filled with handwritten tags that express thankfulness.


No time for a tree?

Provide a basket or bowl and some paper. After dinner the bowl can be passed around and guests can read and try to figure out who wrote each tag. This is a nice way to initiate a different kind of  “sharing” at your Thanksgiving table.


Looking for beautiful tags? These can be downloaded for free if you click HERESilver box creative website invites readers to use these strips for napkin rings, tags for branches of trees or as a conversation piece. Here they are printed on kraft paper. I love these as chains hanging from a gratitude tree.


Well, I hope I gave you some things to think about. Remember, if you begin to get too stressed, you can always go on a Gratitude Walk.

Have a great wonderful day my friends!


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