Thanksgiving and the holiday season that follows are a wonderful opportunity to instill a sense of gratitude in your children and teens. We often think about gratitude as a way to show others we appreciate them or that we are thankful for the things we have when others are less fortunate. But, did you know that practicing gratitude can also help the giver?
Positive psychology finds that gratitude benefits our mental health, our friendships and connections to others, and our daily mood. What is important is feeling positive and noticing what we have and appreciate, so do not roll your eyes if your teen is grateful for his video games! Here are some ways you can practice gratitude with your child:
•Try sharing 3 things you are grateful for from your day, or have everyone say something they love about another family member at the dinner table.
•Make a Gratitude Jar or Box. Decorate the outside however you’d like with paper, paint, or stickers. Every day, write down at least three things you are grateful for on little slips of paper and add them to the jar. The jar will fill up, and you or your child can revisit the slips of paper when you need a mood lift.
•Help your child write a letter to a person they are thankful for and have them personally deliver it. They will get a boost seeing how happy that gift of gratitude makes the recipient.
•If you want to make gratefulness more of an activity at the Thanksgiving table, combine it with a fun craft. Make colorful leaves or turkey feathers out of construction paper with a prompt for everyone to write (or draw) something they are thankful for, then share answers around the table and put the leaves/feathers in the centerpiece or on a central picture of a tree or turkey. You can hang up the final project and create a nice memento of the shared meal.
While Thanksgiving is a great time to talk with your family about gratitude, it’s a practice that would benefit the family to continue year-round.
Lauren Knickerbocker, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, a part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital.