Getting kids rolling around in gratitude: opening hearts and hands

One of the best ways to counter scary news headlines is with kindness and gratitude. Cultivate them, share them, and watch them grow. As Thanksgiving is just a week away, it’s the perfect time to focus more on giving vs. getting.

A Huffington Post blog post this week by Paula Spencer Scott, titled, “Finally, a Cool Formula for Teaching Kids How to Be More Grateful from a Gratitude Researcher (and Dad),” reports that “Alas, kids don't come by an attitude of gratitude naturally. Just like sharing or turn-taking, it's a social skill they need to learn.” Scott interviewed psychologist Jeffrey Froh, an associate professor at Hofstra University who's a leading gratitude researcher and co-author (with psychologist Giacomo Bono) of Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character,” a book released this past spring.

Scott says Froh, whose kids are 5 and 9, told her any of us need to recognize 3 things in order to feel grateful. They are:

1) The intent: that somebody put me first.

2) The cost: what someone gave up for me (such as their time or their money).

3) The benefit: what I got out of it.

She recounts that Froh says talking about kind acts this way with kids can be a “life-changer.” Clearly, thinking in these terms helps all of us to grow our gratitude and carefully consider our expectations.

The Confident Club™ with its tag line “Helping kids believe, ‘Yes, I can!’” offers great suggestions for helping your child develop an attitude of gratitude. One idea is to each day at dinner, have everyone say something they are grateful for. It’s easy to remember this on Thanksgiving, but how much more powerful and reinforcing to make it a daily practice? The website also urges making a gratitude board, using paper in fun shapes and colors to post things you and your kids are grateful for.

Here are 3 other ideas for shifting kids’ natural instincts for self, toward others, as the holiday season gets seriously underway:

  1. Sign up the entire family to volunteer Thanksgiving Day at a mission, shelter for the homeless, or church-sponsored Thanksgiving meal.
  2. If a Christmas wish list is already underway, suggest that for every two items on the list, they choose one toy they already own but seldom use, and donate it—if still in reasonably good shape—to charity.
  3. This year Toys “R” Us is again partnering with the Marines Toys for Tots campaign. The retailer announced on its website: “You, too, can #PlayItForward by helping NBA Legend Shaquille O’Neal – a.k.a. Shaq-A-Claus – make Christmas wishes come true! Give the gift of play to kids in need by donating a new, unwrapped toy at Toys“R”Us and Babies“R”Us stores nationwide through December 6, or by making a cash contribution to Toys for Tots through Christmas Eve, December 24.”

Let the countdown to Thanksgiving launch habits for a lifetime.