Inside: Scientists have identified that the first step in feeling grateful is noticing. Here is a unique Thanksgiving tradition you can start with your family this year to help your kids notice little things that go right in their relationships.
If you are like most parents, one of the things you want to teach your kids is gratitude. To this end, we put a lot of effort into teaching our children to say “thank you” when someone gives them a present or when someone picks up something they dropped.
But what about the myriad other opportunities to say thank you each day?
How can our kids become more sensitive to little things that go right each day in their lives and their relationships?
Researchers have identified that the first step in feeling grateful is noticing the things to be grateful for. Noticing. Yes. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we want our kids to be grateful, we need to start by teaching them how to notice things to be grateful for.
Thank you for…
This Thanksgiving idea came to me last February when we were getting ready for our annual “I love you for …” game. On the first of February, we decorate a container, and every day leading up to Valentine’s Day, we add little notes that start with “I love you for…,” without specifying the receiver or the sender. We read them during dinner, and it always turns out to be really funny as we try to guess who was meant to be the receiver of a note like this: “I love you for sniffing me when I get home.” (Our dog, of course!)
What if we do the same thing with “thank you for…,” I asked my kids. They agreed to try it. We eventually decided that this time, we would specify to whom it was addressed but not by writing it down.
Here is the twist. Since we love a good craft, we decided that each member of the family would find and decorate his or her own container (hello, recycling bin). This way, the person who writes a note can just drop it in the right container.
It turned out to be a really fun way to teach children to be thankful by staying mindful and on the lookout for the positive in everyday interactions. This game shows that we can train ourselves to see the positive. What’s more, it can help us feel good all day!
A Unique Thanksgiving Tradition
(craft + activity)
What you need
- Recycling bin containers of any shape or size
- Decorating materials (fabric, scrapbooking paper, glitter, ribbons, paints, markers)
- Glue or tape (like Gorilla tape)
- A sturdy stick and tools to hang it with (optional)
- A notepad, Post-It notes, or other variation of paper
- A pencil or a marker
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Note: We have a lot of supplies left from Halloween crafts, so our Thank you jars ended up looking Halloween-ish.
What to do
- Ask each family member to find a container to decorate.
- Have a family decorating party. Or skip the party. I couldn’t gather everyone at the table at the same time, so, instead, I piled up decorating supplies in one spot and the kids decorated at their convenience.
- Display decorated containers in a prominent position. Optionally, you can hang a stick on the wall and dangle containers from it. My kids had fished out nice driftwood from Lake Michigan a few years ago. It’s light, hollow, and perfect for hanging.
- Challenge your family members to notice at least 2-3 things each day that go right in their relationships (kind gestures or pleasant facts) and write them down. You can use post-it notes, notebooks with pages that come out easily, or print our “thank you for….” printable.
Thank you for …
… helping me find my pen today.
… making my favorite mashed potatoes for dinner.
… being here.
… being my friend.
… putting the toilet seat down.
… sharing your toy/time/cozy spot on the couch.
… bringing me a box of tissues when I wanted to blow my nose.
… reading me a book.
… styling my hair this morning.
… wishing me “good luck” before the cello class.
… teaching me how to do a cartwheel.
… listening to me complain.
… such a fun game of hide and seek.
Read all of your notes on Thanksgiving morning before the holiday sweeps you into action.
Is it too time and energy demanding?
On Day 1, I was wondering if I had come up with a project that would take too much of my time and energy. Would I need to run around the house every day trying to motivate my kids to write some notes? Would I spend too much time helping them write and spell? Would it be better to designate a specific time for note writing or let it be spontaneous?
I didn’t have to worry about any of it. My kids are super excited about the whole business and there is no stopping them. Since our containers are displayed in the dining area, the kids see them often and have something new to add all the time. They are full of ideas and excitement for this project.
My older kids are happy to help our five-year-old with writing. And even though I do spend a lot of time helping with the spelling, it’s actually a perfect learning opportunity. I’m surrounded by very eager ears and happy hearts.
My seven-year-old challenged herself to write at least ten notes for EACH family member DAILY. She even said, “I just put a note in your container, Mom, that says, “Thank you for coming up with such a fun game! I love it.”
Extra bonus: bonding
Every time my kids spend time around the containers discussing all the things they are grateful for in their relationships (“Thank you for sharing with me MOST OF THE TIME.” “Thank you for not losing your temper MOST OF THE TIME.”), they end up playing together for hours. I can hear their laughter and giggles through the whole house. It turns out that writing “thank you for …” notes together is a great bonding experience! It opened their eyes to all the good things that go right each day. If you think about it, more things go right than wrong each day, but we tend to latch on to one bit that is not perfect and obsess about it.
Younger kids (5 and younger) might need your help in figuring out how to do this activity and writing things down.
- Model it for them. “Harry brought me a clean fork when I dropped mine. This is something I can add to his thank you container. I can write down, “Thank you, Harry, for fetching me a fork. I had a baby on my lap, and so it was super nice that you saved me a trip.”
- Help them notice little acts of kindness and other things that go right in their day. “Mary held the door open for you. Mighty nice of her.” “I see that Peter is sharing his blue crayon with you.”
- Discuss what kindness is and why saying “thank you” makes a difference.
- Get some books about gratefulness and appreciation.
- Maintain a schedule. Allow for 10-15 minutes (maybe before bed) to talk about it and write things down.
“Nothing! Nobody was nice to me!”
When you ask little kids, “What happened today that made you glad?,” some kids might say, “Nothing! Nobody was nice to me today.” Talk about how none of us are perfect. Encourage love and forgiveness. Discuss how sometimes in order to get something we need to give it first. How can they be nice tomorrow? What can they do to help out? Read Forgive and Let Go, Rising Above the Storm Clouds: What It’s Like To Forgive, and Enemy Pie.