The busy holiday season is almost upon us, but before all the shopping and parties arrive, there’s Thanksgiving. Sure, it’s a celebration, but this simple American tradition is also perfectly poised to offer a day of respite and reflection before the big gift-giving season comes next month.
The act of giving thanks is definitely one we want to foster in our children. Practicing gratitude in a season devoted to opening presents is more than just good manners, though. It’s also a healthful life skill with significant physical and psychological benefits.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Psychologists who study gratitude have discovered that people who regularly express thanks feel more optimistic about life, especially when compared with people who focus on negative aspects of their daily routine. Gratitude is also associated with lower rates of depression, higher self-esteem and reduced aggression.
Surprisingly, engaging in gratitude activities also improves physical health. It makes people more likely to exercise and eat well, and it also appears to boost willpower: People who are more grateful are less likely to overeat. Gratitude is also associated with longer, more restful sleep patterns.
4 Family-Friendly Gratitude Practices
Clearly, cultivating a grateful heart is a powerful way to raise happy, healthy families. Try these tips to incorporate gratitude into everyday life with your children:
- Feel It First: Young children will need some guidance to understand what gratitude feels like. Instead of a knee-jerk “What do you say?” prompt to get them to say thank you, try asking them how they feel immediately after someone gives them a gift or does something nice for them. Taking a moment to recognize and name the good feelings and then saying thank you will help children better understand how gratitude feels.
- Dinnertime Conversation: Many families embrace a Thanksgiving tradition in which everyone says what they’re thankful for before eating. Why not make this a daily activity, instead of a yearly one? It’s a great way to model that even the smallest gestures or events are worth celebrating—and it’s a (slightly) sneaky way to get reluctant teens talking about their feelings, too.
- Start a Thank You Board: Hang a whiteboard, chalkboard or bulletin board in a central location in your home—the kitchen is usually a great choice. Then leave notes for each other to thank family members for things they’ve done. This is also a great way to provide recognition for good deeds and behaviors you want encourage: feeding the dog, helping with laundry, and acts of unprompted kindness.
- Donate or Volunteer: If your kids are often focused on what they don’t have or what they want more of, gently shift their perspective by spending time with people who aren’t as fortunate. Have them choose toys and games to donate to a shelter, or take a trip to drop off groceries at a food pantry on the way home from a shopping trip. Then talk about it. There’s nothing like being in a position to help others to make your realize how much you have in your own life.
Of course, it’s also a good idea to model gratitude for your kids, so don’t forget to cultivate this attitude in your own life. Choose one or two of these tips to help you get started, and consider keeping a gratitude journal of your own. This is a great way to stay grounded in the joys of fatherhood, even after a difficult day. Give it a try starting on Thanksgiving, and by New Year’s Day you and your family should be well on your way to making gratitude a healthy new habit for 2020.