Practicing Gratitude During Thanksgiving

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By Joan Morgenstern, Director of Early Childhood Services, Mandel JCC

Thank you to Federation partner, Mandel Jewish Community Center, for allowing us to share this post.

“It is not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, that is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” – W.T. Purkiser

Cleaning, shopping, cooking and out-of-town guests; these are typical signs that the Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching. And while I know that most of you operate from a never ending “to do” list, Thanksgiving is actually a perfect opportunity for you to reflect on the many reasons that you are grateful!

Gratitude, which is both an attitude as well as a practice, is a wonderful habit to cultivate. What is the most effective way to promote this desirable state?

Gratitude practices can be the perfect anecdote to a bad case of the “gimmies.” Practicing gratitude promotes happy feelings by making both children and adults feel full and complete. It not only widens your frame of vision, it is impossible to feel the positive emotion of thankfulness and negative emotions at the same time.

However, in order to teach gratitude to young children you must first do the following:

  • Believe it is important
  • Notice it in your own life
  • Make expressing gratitude a part of your daily practice; both verbally and in writing
  • Serve as an appropriate role-model to your children

The following rituals and practices will enhance your family’s gratitude habits and routines:

  • Gratitude Journal - Help your child keep a gratitude journal; use it every day to record the things that s/he is grateful for. (Begin by maintaining your own gratitude journal so you can also experience first the powerful impact that this has.)
  • Gratitude Box – Decorate a “Family Gratitude Box” so family members can record their grateful thoughts and store them in the box. Review these comments regularly and make sure to provide your own contributions too!
  • Gratitude Glasses – Buy a pair of oversized or fun looking glasses and call them the “Gratitude Glasses.” Use these as a prop to focus your child’s attention on the things s/he is grateful for.
  • Gratitude Letter – Assist your child in writing a “Gratitude Letter;” to someone who enhances your child’s life. (Preferably this is done to express appreciation for something other than a material gift.) Record your child’s thoughts and feelings and encourage your child to personalize the letter with his/her artwork!
  • Play a category -based game that encourages participants to select a specific category and then identify and/or record what they are grateful for! Suggested “categories” include: Body parts (It is best to choose one part of the body at a time; for example you may want to start with legs or arms.), people in your life, things in your home, people in the family, places you have been, possessions that you have, or things in nature.
  • Gratitude Party – Have a big celebration and acknowledge the different reasons why family members feel grateful!
  • Gratitude Book – Have a gratitude book specifically about your child. Record the many reasons why you are grateful for your child. Make sure you share this with your child on a regular basis.

At school, the children are regularly exposed to a variety of different gratitude practices. Recently our three -year olds decorated gratitude boxes and our four- year olds decorated family gratitude journals. We hope you will take the time to extend these experiences into your homes. Young children are naturally exuberant and joy-filled, eager to embrace life in all its mystery and majesty. Expressing gratitude harnesses this great disposition and helps them to reflect on the ongoing abundance that is already so much a part of their lives!

Warmest wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday; may it be filled with good food, good company and much abundance.

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