I’m declaring November the “Month of Gratitude”. Granted I don’t think I actually have the power to make it official, but I encourage you and your family to join me. The Bible is full of verses like this one in Psalms “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 107:1) I’m sure you have taught your kids to thank God when they pray, but have you ever encouraged your children to fully embrace the idea of a grateful heart?
The best thing about teaching kids to be grateful is that it can have a lot of side benefits. Helping your kids see God’s gifts can also help them begin to notice God actively working in their lives. Teaching them to be thankful for even the most basic things in life can erase the idea of being entitled to good things, because your kids have learned they are special gifts to be appreciated. Helping your kids appreciate everyone who does anything for them will help them begin to see them as people with souls who need to be served and to learn about God.
Like anything, having an attitude of gratitude as they say may mean you and your kids need to break some bad habits. What better way than substituting better attitudes and habits – and have some fun in the process? Declare this November the “Month of Gratitude” in your house. Try to do something with your kids every day to practice gratitude. Use some of the ideas below or get creative and come up with your own. (I would love to hear your comments on the things you did so others can join the fun.)
- Start a gratitude journal with a twist. Grab a small three ring binder. Give everyone in the family a piece of notebook paper and a pen. Set a timer for three minutes. Each person should write down as many people as they can think of that have done or are currently doing something to “help” them. The list could range from Mom (who of course should be number one on the list of every child!) to the mail delivery person to teachers, servers in restaurants or the nice neighbor who always waves. When time is up share your lists with each other. Did everyone think of the same people? Anyone on a list that surprised everyone else? Repeat the activity on other nights for different categories like material blessings, talents from God, things in creation, etc. Have each person sign and date their sheets and add them all to the binder at the end of each time. When someone is having a hard time being grateful, encourage them to read through your family’s journal.
- Send fun thank you notes to people for their actions – not just the things they give you. You have probably taught your kids the value of a thank you note for presents. Have some fun with your kids sending thank you notes for actions. Grab some blank paper, markers, crayons, stickers, colored paper, glue sticks and other craft supplies. Have fun making and mailing or delivering thank you notes to people who have done something for someone in your family. It could be a previous teacher, someone who always made them feel loved, the server at your favorite restaurant, a neighbor who always asks about their activities, a friend’s mom who lets them spend the night or anyone who normally would not receive a thank you note.
- Catch people being kind or serving others. Ever notice someone you don’t know do something nice for you or someone else? As a family, keep a little bag of candy or coupons for a free ice cream or cup of coffee. Make little cards that say something like “Thank you for thinking of others.” Go to a public space and make a game of spotting these giving people and reward them with a card and a little treat. (Please observe all safety rules and accompany your kids to avoid any possible “stranger danger” incidents.)
- Teach your kids to thank God for specifics and not just in general. The problem with rote prayers is that they are just that – rote. If your kids regularly pray “Thank you God for everything” or “Thank you God for…” followed by a list of the same two or three things, they may not even really be paying attention to what they are saying and it has lost any meaning. Encourage your kids to thank God for two or three special blessings they realized were from Him that day. Not only will it give that part of their prayers more meaning, it will remind them that even on the worst of days, God has continued to bless them.
- Make “thank you” some of the most used words by your family. Have an “I spy” ongoing contest for the month. Who can notice the most people your family should have been thanking, but haven’t regularly or at all? It could be anyone from the employee who carries your groceries to the car to the doorman in your building to someone who always is friendly and greets you. Encourage your kids to be especially mindful of any and every teacher they have. They should thank their schoolteachers, Bible class teachers and any extra curricular teachers at the end of every lesson or school day.
- Have a treasure hunt for hidden helpers. Have your kids help you find and thank the “hidden” people who serve others. Who fills the communion trays or bakes the bread? Who gets to church early and shovels the snow or turns on the heat? Who makes the bulletin boards in the halls of school? Who does those things we often take for granted, but never really notice who does them to make our lives better?
- Have a “Gratitude Person” of the day or week. Every day or week this month pick one person or group of people for whom your family is grateful. Bake some brownies or cookies together and take them to that person. Let them know all of the reasons your family appreciates them.
Have fun with it, but help your kids have a grateful spirit. You may find other behaviors and attitudes changing in positive ways as your month of gratitude progresses. Try making these activities things your family regularly does outside of November. Others will be grateful you did.