5 Kid-Friendly Gratitude-Building Practices for Thanksgiving
The holidays can be a lovely time that brings food, family and friends together. It’s often a time of abundance…food, gifts, loved ones. As parents and caregivers we want our kids to enjoy all that they have, but also feel and express gratitude for both the material and non-material, and have a desire to give as much as receive. This can feel like a tall order sometimes. and there is a tendency to tell children they need to be grateful instead of showing them how. Try these practices to help your child cultivate gratitude and be truly thankful.
1) Start with yourself
Remember — you are the model for your child. Taking care of yourself and finding a way to be grounded during the hustle and bustle of this time of year will help you communicate the right messages to your child. Take moments throughout your preparation to notice how you feel in your body and mind. When you notice that you are overwhelmed or stressed don’t judge yourself. just pay attention. What are you worrying about? Practice taking some deep diaphragmatic breaths in through your nose bringing some TLC to those places in your body and mind that need soothing. Consider what you are grateful for and how that gratitude might prevail over the stress and anxiety.
2) Talk with your child
Don’t be afraid to communicate. When you feel the stress of the holidays whether it’s preparing or hosting celebrations in your own home or traveling to another place, share with your child (on his level) how you are feeling, followed by how you are being kind to yourself and coping. This is where the gratitude conversation can begin. Find the little non-material things YOU are grateful for in the moment and express them. Perhaps you can tell your child that you are so glad you have your breath to help calm you down. For example, “I am so glad I have my breath to calm me down when I feel stressed. I am so glad you are with me to help. I am so thankful we have time together. Isn’t it wonderful we have this day with our family to enjoy.” Ask your child questions too. “How are you feeling? What are you excited about? “ Engaging your child in a conversation about what you are both grateful for in the context of a real moment or event and handling your feelings with kindness, really bring home the messages of being thankful.
3) Do some yoga
Practicing some yoga can also cultivate gratitude. Start by doing some sun salutations. This sequence of poses is intended not only to warm up the body but to give thanks to the sun for all it provides. Before beginning, ask your child why we are grateful for the sun. What does it do for us? Start by standing in mountain pose, feet hip-distance apart, reaching your arms up to the sky. Inhale. Bring the warmth of the sun down to your toes as you exhale. Grab your shins and look up and breath in. Exhale and fold. Step the right foot back and then the left to meet it in plank pose. Lower to your belly. with hands by the shoulders push the ground away lifting your chest and head to the sky in cobra. Come through bent knees and lift your hips to the sky while your hands push into the ground looking at your belly. Take 3 deep breaths and imagine the sun warming your whole body. Walk your feet to your hands, inhale and roll up reaching your hands back to the sky as if you are putting the sun back. then bring both hands together by the heart. Repeat stepping the left foot back first. When standing with your hands by your heart talk about how your body feels and isn’t it wonderful we can move our bodies in this way and we have the sun to shine.
Partner poses are another way to feel gratitude for the support of others. Try partnering in tree pose. helping to hold each other up and notice how balance is easier with someone else.
Each of these poses create the opportunity for natural conversation about the environment and the strength of the body and breath and how fortunate we all are to have both.
4) Be creative
Doing some crafts with your child not only occupy little hands and minds, but are also a way to express gratitude. Writing or drawing what one is thankful for on paper, turkey “feathers” or leaves to decorate a table or tree not only look beautiful. but give kids a chance to express what is in their hearts. Coming up with ways to give back as a family can also cultivate this grateful feeling and a sense of joy and pride knowing you are helping others. You can start with asking your child to help set the table or take people’s coats if you are having guests. Ask them what helpful “job” they would like and discuss how it feels to help others. Or maybe you pack bags full of food at your local food pantry or spearhead a toy or shoe drive at your school or other local organization. Older kids might want to go online and look for a charity that inspires and interests them to donate either money or time. Get creative and check in with your child to help them really notice how helping feels in their own bodies and minds and how it feels to be helped.
5) Notice, notice, notice and breathe
Remember – kids are kids and they will still likely be thankful for their toys or material things but the more they practice noticing their own experience the more they will see how truly wonderful life can be on many other levels. Take the time during the holidays to pay attention to the world around you. Look at the sky, the trees, the earth. Point out small acts of kindness and little “miracles.” Feel the wind, the snow, the rain and the sun. Whatever is happening around, make sure to help your kids pause, pay attention, notice how it all feels, breathe deeply, close your eyes and let gratitude fill your hearts. There is so much to be thankful for.
Susan Verde is currently living in East Hampton, New York with her twin boys Joshua and Gabriel and her daughter Sophia where she writes children’s books and teaches kid’s yoga and mindfulness. Her children, her practice and the ocean at her doorstep keep her constantly connected and inspired. She is the author of the picture books The Museum, You and Me, I Am Yoga, The Water Princess, and the forthcoming book, “My Kicks,” (due for release in April of 2017