The Attitude of Gratitude

Creating Grateful Children

by tj wierenga

History abounds with grateful people and a grateful nation, but sometimes as parents we are a little surprised to find that thankfulness doesn’t necessarily come automatically. Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to help develop a sense of gratitude within our children and ourselves. Studies prove that grateful people are happier overall in their lives, more resilient to stress and problems, less depressed, have higher self-esteem and more satisfying relationships. What a wonderful heritage to give our children!

Following are some suggestions to help develop this lifelong habit:

 As with every character aspect you are trying to help your children develop, modeling is paramount! Honestly thank your kids for their efforts around the house or with their schoolwork.  Thanking your spouse, friends, family and service personnel such as waiters and waitresses in your children’s presence also sets a good example.

Teach them that chores such as feeding the pets, clearing the kitchen table and picking up take effort.  This will help them develop an appreciation for things that have been done for them. 

Say “no” often enough so that they appreciate it when you do say “yes.” 

Don’t just tell your kids that you love them – tell them what you love about them. You cannot underestimate the impact of your words and appreciation on their self-esteem, trust, and sense of security.  They will learn first-hand the joy of feeling appreciated and valued. 

     Part of gratitude is learning to value others. Play-act various emotions to help teach children empathy.

Write letters and cards as a gift of self to family members, especially those far away.

     When children receive gifts, make a point of tracking who sent the gifts.  Encourage children to show their gratitude with hand-written thank you notes. If children are too young to write, let them finger-paint a picture, or outline their hand on paper and write an appreciative note while telling the child what you are writing “together.” They can also use stamps or stickers to decorate a thank you card.

     Pray with your children, before meals and at bedtime.  Counting blessings and gratitude go hand in hand.

Serve others through volunteering.  Mowing or raking an elderly or disabled neighbor’s yard helps children learn to think of others.  They’ll also see first hand that people react to good deeds with gratitude.

Start a Thanksgiving Family Journal & Scrapbook.  Each person writes an entry (you can have smaller children dictate to an adult) about things that each family member is grateful for. Include a list of guests, the Thanksgiving feast menu (including family recipes, notes on recipes, etc), and some photos. The book will not only underscore the importance of gratitude, but it will also become a valuable resource for planning future Thanksgivings.

Happy THANKS-giving!

TJ Wierenga lives in Billings with her husband and two young children.

“The Five Kernels”

-an activity to practice gratitude

     On Thanksgiving Day, start the tradition of “The Five Kernels” at your holiday table. Legend has it that the pilgrims’ first winter in America was a very cold one, leaving food in short supply.  Some days they each had only 5 kernels of corn to eat. When spring came, the pilgrims planted the remaining corn. The sun and rain helped the seeds to grow and much food was harvested in the fall. Every Thanksgiving thereafter, the pilgrims placed 5 kernels of corn beside each plate to remind them of their blessings:

     The first kernel reminded them of autumn’s beauty, the second kernel of their love for each other, the third kernel for their family’s love, the fourth kernel for their friends, especially their Indian brothers who had done so much for them, and the fifth kernel represented their freedom.

     At your own table, you may either use the traditional meanings of each kernel of corn, or each give examples of five things for which you feel gratitude.