It’s almost Thanksgiving, which makes it a good time to think about talking to and teaching children about gratitude. Several years ago, my daughter’s classroom made brownbag lunches together to take to a community center for those who do not get enough to eat. It was a nice way to start a discussion about what she (and we) have to be thankful for.

Some basics of teaching gratitude

  • Model gratitude through your actions – say thank you to those around you when they do something nice, small or big.
  • Make a point to talk about things others do for us that go unnoticed, like people driving trash trucks who are helping us out by cleaning up for us.
  • Say thank you to someone who holds the door, to a server in a restaurant and to your child when he or she does something you appreciate.

Start gratitude-oriented traditions

  • Thanksgiving is a great time to start traditions that make your family stop to think about things they are grateful for.
    • For example, have everyone say something for which they are grateful.
    • Have your kids draw pictures or write it down in a journal. They can look at this if they are sad sometime later in the year to feel better.
  • Incorporate community service into your holiday tradition:
    • Take some of your Thanksgiving dinner to a friend or neighbor who is ill or unable to make their own dinner.
    • Invite someone to join your family for dinner who may not have their own family nearby.
    • Volunteer at a local shelter or soup kitchen.
    • Pack up gently used toys or clothing to give to kids in need.

Thinking about the positive things in life can help prevent children from feeling down or depressed. Emphasizing gratitude is a good thing for children’s mental health as well as a good way to prepare them for being good citizens throughout their lives.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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