Parenting Tips > Traditions

Thanksgiving Rituals To Teach Gratitude

Thanksgiving will be celebrated in the United States this week, kicking off a month of holiday frenzy that includes Hanukka, Kwanza and the Winter Solstice, and culminates finally in Christmas. The busyness and consumer focus often leave both children and parents feeling overwhelmed and unsatisfied, aching for a different experience of the holidays.

But there is another way. You can give your children a meaningful, joyous and peaceful holiday season. You can celebrate the new year feeling more connected as a family. Mommy meltdowns and going into debt are completely optional.

How do you start? By feeling appreciative for all you have! That makes gratitude into a mindset, or a habit. A whole body of research now confirms that adults, children and adolescents who report feeling gratitude are happier, healthier, more content, more optimistic, and more likely to be helpful to other people in every way. They're also less materialistic, less envious and less likely to be depressed.

In one study by Jeffrey Froh, a psychology prof at Hofstra University in New York, middle-school students were asked to count their blessings for two weeks by listing five things they were grateful for.  The control group listed complaints about hassles in their lives. The kids who focused on blessings for just two weeks felt more gratitude, more life satisfaction, more optimism and were more positive -- even months later!

So how can you help your whole family rediscover the gratitude attitude on which Thanksgiving is founded? Here are ten ideas to get you started inventing your own meaningful traditions.

  1. Have your family count blessings by listing things everyone is grateful for every night at dinner or bedtime. If you want, record these blessings in a Family Gratitude Journal. 
  2. Make it a practice to comment with appreciation on all the blessings you encounter as you go through life. Your children will follow suit. "What a beautiful day! I love it when the sun is shining."..... "I love the rain! Look how happy the plants are for the water." 
  3. Look for books on gratitude at the library and online (used) and read them with your child. Talk about what gratitude means and what you're grateful for.
  4. Take a photo or two every week of something beautiful that you appreciate, share it with your kids, and talk about appreciation.
  5. Express your thanks through service. Volunteer together at a shelter that feeds hungry people, make cards for our troops, bake pies with your kids and take some to your local homeless shelter or fire station. Explain to your children that we are all interconnected and we benefit so much from the actions of others that we want to help whenever we can.
  6. Express gratitude to nature. Help your kids make peanut butter and seed-stuffed pinecones for the birds, or plant bulbs, or pick up trash at your local park. 
  7. Help your kids write thank-you letters to mail or deliver in person “to someone who has done something really kind for you, but you never gave them the thanks they deserve."  (Froh found that kids who did this report more happiness than kids who didn't write the letters -- not just immediately, but three and five months later.)
  8. Make a blessing tree and post it on the wall. On Thanksgiving, everyone writes things they're grateful for on construction paper leaves and tapes them to the tree. If you save this and add to it every year, it will become an heirloom, as the children grow and the family constellation changes. You can also do this as a Blessing Book and keep adding pages.
  9. Blessing Tablecloth- Ask everyone to write 3 things they're grateful for, their name & the date on a plain white tablecloth using permanent markers. Repeat annually with the same cloth & your children will look forward to the tablecloth every year, even as teens.
  10. During the meal, clink your glass, make a toast of gratitude that you all get to be together, and then go around the table, each person saying at least three things they're grateful for.