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Helping Children Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

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By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

This is the time of year when social media, magazine and news stories and blogs (like this one) encourage us to reflect on the parts of our lives that we are most thankful for and to express appreciation for those who make our lives full. As a parent, my thoughts go immediately to my children. I am grateful to be sharing the experiences of life with them, and I hope that the things I say and do show them how important they are to me. As I write this post, though, I wonder what am doing as a parent to help them develop an attitude of gratitude.   

One place to start is to use the upcoming holidays as a reason to think about how much we appreciate our family members and help your children come up with ways to show them how much we value them. Although gathering with family members may be tricky this year due to pandemic-related health concerns, we can be grateful for the resources of the modern worlthat provide us with many ways to stay connected, even from a distance. Here are some ideas for preschool-age children that might inspire them to feel and show gratitude toward others. 

Art with Heart – Making art for others is an enjoyable childhood activity – not only do children get to create art, but they get to enjoy someone’s enthusiastic response when they receive it. I’m a big fan of process-oriented art in which the focus is on using materials creatively in an open-ended way rather than producing a specific set outcome. Instead of asking children to make a leaf wreath, provide them with a variety of materials and invite them to create something they think Grandpa would like. As they think about Grandpa, encourage them to reflect on what makes him so special, and write down what they say.  You can send Grandpa the artwork in the mail, take a photo and send it to his phone or ask your children to show the artwork to Grandpa over video chat. Include a note in which you share why your children think he is so special 

A Week of Warmth – Print out pictures of family members, turn them facedown and pick a new face from your pile each week. Start a conversation about that special family member in which you help your children reflect on how this person shows care and interest, what they do that your children appreciate and how your children feel when they think about that family member.  Each day of the week, have your children send a short video or text that they think will make that family member feel special. 

Sweet Treats – Invite your children to think of a kind of treat they’d like to make and who they’d like to send it toThis idea is a two-for-one – it has all of the benefits of a fun cooking activity combined with a way to show appreciation for family member far away.  When the family member receives the treat, ask that person to call (or start a video chat) so that your children can explain why they’re thankful for that person in their lives. Pro tip – Make a double batch so you can also leave one out to thank the mail carriers for what they do for your community, or make a triple batch and give one to your children’s teachers. 

Activities like the ones above help children pay attention to what they value about their family members and engage in age-appropriate ways to say, “Thank you for being in my life.” Combining conversations about how children feel with activities they can do to show thanks is the secret recipe for supporting children’s capacity for gratitude