5 Ways to Practice Gratitude with (or without) Kids

Gratitude: the consummate antidote to consumerism. Gratitude is also one of the keys to living a happy, meaningful life, and a trait I hope to model for and foster within my children. Ironically, difficulty and scarcity seem to inspire gratitude more than abundance, and I am often frustrated by my own children's lack of gratitude. So in my readings on happiness and mindfulness, I pay special attention to the suggestions for practicing gratitude and establishing habits of thankfulness.

November and the Thanksgiving holiday are the perfect season to focus on gratitude. Here are 5 ways to practice gratitude this month with (or without) kids.

The Gratitude Tree

We did this last year and plan to do it again this year. You can find lots of elaborate ideas on Pinterest. I chose to keep it pretty simple: I drew a tree trunk and branches on a poster, cut out leaves in fall colors, and then wrote words on the leaves. On family night, we gave each of our kids several leaves and let them glue them on the tree after writing (with our assistance if needed) something they were grateful for on each leaf. After that, I kept a little box of leaves and a marker around so they could add leaves to the tree throughout the month as they thought of new things to add.

Gratitude ABCs

This was a favorite activity of my kids. They loved trying to think of something for each letter. In some ways, the alphabet part was a bit more distracting than helpful, as for my 7yo in particular the activity may have become more about finishing the alphabet than thankfulness. This year I think we'll begin by filling in 10 letters of our gratitude alphabet on family night and then encourage them to slowly fill up the rest of the alphabet as they think of things that begin with each letter. Click here if you'd like to use my own very simple version of a Gratitude ABCs worksheet.

Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is a well-established practice for boosting optimism and happiness. The concept is simple: write down the things you are grateful for. Sources vary in the suggested number of items (3, 5, 7, 10), frequency (daily, weekly), and elaborateness of the content, so choose whatever works best for you and your family. For small children who are reluctant to record their answers, consider writing their answers for them as they dictate. The book Slow Family Living proposes an interesting twist on this practice: have kids write down 5 to 10 things they appreciate each time they complain or whine. Or try a free digital version here. Whichever way you choose to practice this (I suggest beginning very simply, especially if you have small children), it's about establishing a habit of gratitude that will open your eyes to the good things in your life. Once you have an established habit and are interested in taking your gratitude journal to the next level, check out these Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal.

Gratitude List

As an alternative to writing down what you are grateful for, you can simply create a mental or verbal list regularly. I like to ask my kids each night before they say their prayers if they can tell me three things they are grateful for, or three good things that happened that day. Otherwise they tend to say the same thing every night without much thought. Adults can create a mental list each night or morning. The book Raising Happiness suggests having each family member talk about three good things that happened that day during family dinner, or posting a family gratitude list on the fridge that everyone can contribute to.

Gratitude Jar

The book Mindful Parenting suggests letting kids decorate a Gratitude Jar. Prominently display the jar with plenty of empty slips of paper and pencils nearby. Encourage family members to write (or draw pictures of) thing they are grateful for and add them to the jar whenever they like. Read aloud the contents of the jar on Thanksgiving. If you want to continue this practice throughout the year, consider reading contents weekly or monthly.

Bonus Challenge: The Gratitude Visit (or Gratitude Letter)

The idea, proposed and tested for improving participants' happiness by positive psychologists, is to write a letter of gratitude to a positive influence in your life and then read the letter aloud in person to the recipient. In Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman describes the task this way: "select one person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thank." Take your time writing this, then arrange to meet the recipient in personsimply telling him or her, "I want to see you."  Read the letter aloud with expression and eye contact, let the other person react unhurriedly, and then give the copy to the person. The book Raising Happiness specifically discusses an example of doing Gratitude Visits with children. Carter suggests having kids write and read aloud end-of-the-year gratitude letters to their teachers. Carter states that "paying gratitude visits teaches children to express appreciation for more than things such as birthday presents, and to recognize that meaningful gifts are often nonmaterial."

How do you practice gratitude?

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  1. Love this, Betsy! We used to do a gratitude tree every year for the month of November. It fell by the wayside in the last year or two so I think it might be time to resurrect it. I also love the idea of having complainers make a list of 10 things to be grateful for. :P Totally going to do that!

  2. Great ideas. We need to think about gratitude daily and not just around the holidays. Thanks!!

  3. We do a gratitude journal as a family at dinner and it's been such an amazing experience. Not only helping us remember to appreciate life, but also archiving our lives in a really easy way. Love it!

    1. Family gratitude journal -- what a great idea!

    2. Love the idea of a family gratitude journal! Stealing that, Janelle.

  4. Love the gratitude jar idea. Great for kids of ALL ages!

  5. We are going to do this too, only with a turkey where we add the feathers each day :-)

  6. Great tips! While I don't have kids many are great for adults as well. I will also share this with my friends that have kids.

  7. What a great idea. I am with Green Bean. How to get complainers to realize how lucky they really are.


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