There's an upswing in conversations around "gratitude" and “being grateful” during the holiday season. In an incredibly difficult year, this can be a challenge for some. As you make holiday plans, take this opportunity to rethink gratitude, what we’re thankful for, and authentically teach children to appreciate what they have. Here are some things to keep in mind.
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Gratitude Builds Self Confidence
Children who feel they are taken care of benefit from self-confidence. You can teach your child to understand the importance of basic needs and why it’s important to be thankful for them.
1. Talk to your child about necessities like food, shelter, water, clothing, health, and safety to help them to see an abundance they may otherwise overlook.
2. If your family can, volunteer time at a food kitchen.
3. Make toiletry or snack kits to give out to homeless individuals.
Another way to reframe the concept of gratitude is by giving children a better understanding of the people who keep them safe and healthy. A child who feels anxious can garner strength learning about safety and the work of front line workers. During COVID-19, one way to lower anxiety is to help children learn ways to keep themselves and others safe.
4. Thank you cards for frontline and other essential workers is a wonderful way to connect your child to their community.
5. Spend a family day taking an online CPR/first aid class.
6. Create a family safety plan, which your family can update every year during the holiday season.
Social-Emotional Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude activities hone into the here and now, promoting a sense of belonging. During COVID, gratitude activities help children feel less isolated.
7. Help your child find a program where they can sign up to be someone’s pen pal.
8. Have your child call an older family member and pretend to be a reporter writing a story on their life.
9. Family trees are a concrete way for children to see the interwoven family connections and decrease feelings of isolation.
Gratitude helps children develop an understanding of their own culture and family history. Children who know more about the world beyond their home can better identify their strengths and stretch to meet new goals.
10. Help your child connect to their local history by reaching out to museums and universities are a great place to seek out information.
11. Cultural groups like indigenous families and families of color can promote resiliency through reteaching their accounts, which have often been left out of history books. It also highlights the importance of documenting family histories.
12. Have your child create an art project about their family history.
Children who focus on gratitude feel a sense of worth and value beyond financial gain. They also learn to see positive change from direct action — they will not only see the change, but they will also feel that vital sense of accomplishment.
13. Have your child go out and pick up trash at your local park or in the neighborhood or collect as many cans and bottles as they can.
14. Take your child to your local recycling center and help them count how many bottles and cans they turn in. That number is concrete proof of their ability to affect change, all on their own.
Gratitude Teaches Coping Skills Building
Teaching children gratitude can build up their toolbox of coping skills. Gratitude journaling becomes a vital tool for helping children see their failures as opportunities for growth. When the power of "not good enough" meets "not yet," children learn the real power of resiliency.
Gratitude activities embrace creativity allowing children to express gratitude through art, journaling, and oral storytelling. Creativity through hobbies and passions can become one of the most vital coping skills children can learn.
15. Discuss some favorite family stories or memories used to encourage others to keep going when life is rough.
16. For special dinners, children can create a gratitude tree by making a tree trunk from paper. Family members can then write down what they’re thankful for on paper leaves. With planning, out-of-town family can even virtually share in this experience.
17. Have your child keep a gratitude journal, where they record their daily highs and lows. There will be days when it’s a struggle to find a high, but this is where learning to embrace a growth mindset comes through — a previous low is now a high because it's a mistake they can learn from.
Gratitude Helps Children See the Big Picture
Gratitude helps children understand the interconnectedness of the world. Just as it helps highlight food insecurities and homelessness, it also shows how every person can make a difference. Assisting children to identify their strengths in changing the world provides hope. Children who feel they make a difference and live by the growth mindset set goals and are motivated for change.
18. Take gratitude trips in the neighborhood to find the joys nearby — what do they see that makes them feel happy?
19. Create art to take your local firehouse.
20. Have children donate games or crafting kits to a local nursing home.
It’s Okay to Embrace the Little Things
Before jumping headfirst into thankfulness activities, take some time to evaluate what you want your children to learn. If this has been an especially rough year for everyone, it may not be the best time to start trying to rethink what it means to be grateful — sometimes, it’s enough just to be grateful for making it through to the other side. Use this season as an opportunity to jumpstart conversations and actions around appreciation for one another and how grateful you are to have each other as family.