Thanksgiving is this week, so naturally I’ve got gratitude on my mind. It’s pretty easy this time of year to focus on my blessings rather than what I lack. It’s also pretty easy to talk to my kids about gratitude and to ask them what they’re grateful for. In fact, they often times bring it up themselves, thanks to talking about it at school, on television shows, with friends, etc.
But what happens on Friday? Well, Black Friday, for one thing. The biggest shopping day of the year. The transition into Christmas and wish lists and wants and desires and unnecessary purchases. This aspect of the Christmas season is fun and fine (as long as we remember to keep Christ at the center of our Christmas!). But we so quickly lose all that we built up in those first few weeks of November.
So how can we keep the gratitude going? How can we help our kids feel gratitude ALL YEAR ROUND?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this and how I can help my son, Ryan, feel grateful for what he has. I sometimes see entitlement come out in him, so I’ve been thinking up ways to change that. In brainstorming how to help him, I came up with a list of games, discussion topics, and activities to help kids feel gratitude when they might be having a hard time with it.
Here’s what I thought up:
Do a negative swap.
Your kid walks through the door after school and immediately goes into a tirade about how he had the WORST. DAY. EVER. He has some valid points about why he feels the way he does, but he’s also giving lots of power to small things–like the fact that he had to use the green crayon instead of the blue crayon. First of all, listen to him. Let him know you hear him, but then give him a challenge: go back through his list and have him try to think of one good thing that came from each bad thing.
For instance, if he said he was upset he had to wear mismatched socks because all the rest were dirty, he could say he’s grateful he had socks to wear. Or if he was upset that the cafeteria was serving his least favorite meal, he could be grateful that he had food to eat and didn’t have to go hungry. This will probably be really, REALLY tough for him, especially at first. In fact, the first time you try it, you might challenge him to pick only ONE of the bad things to swap. Then gradually add in more swaps over time. But the more you practice this, the easier it will get and your kids will start to naturally feel more grateful.
Play the ABCs game: gratitude style.
Have you played the road trip game where the first person says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a…”, then names a food that starts with the letter A? Then the second person says, “I’m so hungry I could eat a…”, and names the food person A named, then adds a food that starts with the letter B. Then it repeats on and on until someone has to name (and remember) all the foods listed A-Z.
Spin that game a little on its head and use things you’re grateful for instead of food items. So instead of saying, “I’m so hungry I could eat a…”, say, “I’m so blessed! I have a…” and then start listing things with each letter of the alphabet.
Person A would say: “I’m so blessed! I have arms!”
Then person B would say: “I’m so blessed! I have arms and a bed.”
Then person C would say: “I’m so blessed! I have arms, a bed, and crayons!”
And so on and so forth.
Race the clock with gratitude.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and see if your kid can write down 50 things she’s grateful for. Or set the timer for 5 minutes and see who in the family can write down the most things they’re grateful for. You could even take this a step further and encourage out-of-the-box thinking by going around and each reading your list, then crossing off the repeated items (like in Boggle) to see who named the most unique items!
Start a gratitude jar.
Keep an empty jar with slips of paper next to it in your kitchen or a high traffic area in your house. Encourage your family to write down things they’re thankful for throughout the week, then during dinner on Sunday night (or whatever night you choose), read through the items and reflect on your blessings as a family.
Other easy ideas:
- Play traditional games with a gratitude spin–like charades, pictionary, or 20 questions. Use things you’re grateful for as the items to guess.
- Challenge your kids to go a whole day without complaining. See how long they make it, then have them try to beat their record the next day.
- Encourage them to start a gratitude journal. You can buy a specific journal meant for gratitude (that helps guide their thoughts) or simply get them a new notebook with their favorite character on it and have them write down one thing they’re grateful for each day. (For tips on how I incorporate a gratitude journal into my personal daily routine, see my post on How to Journal with a Purpose.)
- Challenge them to say a gratitude prayer where they simply thank God for everything He’s given them without asking for any blessings.
I plan to try these out with my kids and hope that I can teach them (and myself) to keep our gratitude going throughout the whole year!
How do you teach your kids gratitude?