I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving happens to be one of my favorite holidays. We tend to overlook Thanksgiving and focus all our efforts on Christmas, but this holiday really allows me to build relationships with my family rather than buying gifts and money. As one of eight children, our holiday gatherings are chaotic, messy, and above all FUN. And, there is never too much food. If you go hungry at our family gatherings, it is your own fault.
To me, Thanksgiving is pumpkin bread cooking in the oven while I chat with my sisters, helping all the kids get their turkey and stuffing, eating till your are stuffed silly, and listening to all the funny childhood stories I have heard a million times, but can’t get enough of. Amongst all the chatter, I like to take a moment to step back and observe everyone and everything around me. If I could freeze time, I would hold on to this moment forever because it is the time I find true gratitude and love for all that I have. My family is the most important part of my life and I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have so many supportive people who have loved me through the good times and the bad times.
As I reminisced, I started wondering about my own children and if I had taught them the importance and significance of this holiday. Did I just have a parent fail moment? I decided to ask my kids what they remembered about Thanksgiving during their childhood and what teaching moments they remember about gratitude. To my surprise, they had some great stories and examples of we used to do when they were young, which I will share below. Then I thought, I wonder if parents have some of the same questions or need ideas about how to foster gratitude in the home, especially during the holiday season.
I came up with some great ideas and fun ways to try out this holiday season with your family to help make your Thanksgiving more memorable and bring the true spirit of the holiday.
Make it Corny
This was one of my kids’ favorites. Each year before we ate our Turkey dinner, I would put five kernels of corn on their plate. For each kernel, we would go around the room and say something we were grateful for. I liked to encourage my kids to be creative and think outside the box rather than coming up with the same ideas as we went around the table. You can even do this activity a few minutes before dinner is ready so the turkey doesn’t get cold.
Model of Gratitude
The most powerful tool we have is to teach by example. When we show gratitude for each other and for the things we have, it teaches our children to be grateful too. Most children watch and mimic what we do anyway, so it’s a great opportunity to be in the spotlight and show them through writing, expression, and small gifts or acts of kindness how we appreciate others and what they do for us.
It’s a great idea to get kids out of their comfort zone to help others, especially when it comes to giving back. During the Thanksgiving holiday, we took our kids to a local church that served turkey dinner for those who were less fortunate. At the time, getting a teenager motivated to volunteer took some doing, but after we all arrived, and got past the nervous jitters, the kids started serving the families, taking trays, and joking around with the visitors. Once they realized there was nothing to worry about, and serving and helping others was actually fun, they began building relationships with many of the people who came. Volunteering not only does wonders for fielding gratitude, it is also good for the mind and body. Studies show kids who volunteer and are socially more apt to show gratitude tend to be less stressed and show signs of depression.
A fun way to get kids motivated about the holiday and to emphasize the spirit of Thanksgiving is to make thank you cards. Thank you cards are easily constructed and can be as simple or as elaborate as you would like. With some construction paper, glue, crayons, and markers, your kids can easily create thank you cards with turkeys or a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving. When they have a masterpiece, help your child write a personal note to family members, friends, or neighbors about why they are grateful for them. If possible, an extra bonus is to help your child deliver them in person so they can see the effect their efforts have on others. When they see the reactions to the cards they made, it typically motivates kids to continue serving others more often.
“Drum” Up Ideas
Part of teaching children valuable life lessons is also giving them independence and letting them make choices for themselves. When it comes to gratitude, feel free to give your children ideas about how to help others, but let them also come up with their own activities to show gratitude towards others. Kids are often motivated if they are volunteering or showing gratitude in the ways that interest them. For example, if your child enjoys helping animals rather than volunteering in a rest home, get them involved in your local animal shelter. Giving kids a sense of purpose creates a more meaningful life and eventually shapes their values, character, and interests.
The story of the First Thanksgiving is one of the best historical examples of charity and love towards our fellow man. The Pilgrims and Native Americans, probably somewhat fearful and resistant at first, put all of their differences aside for one day to share in a meal of Thanksgiving and fellowship. Like the Pilgrims and Native Americans, we can also teach our children to give back not only through volunteering, but through donations. Help your child find old toys or clothes they might not need or want and donate them to a local homeless shelter. Kids can also earn extra money to buy a toy or gift for a family in need or participate in a giving tree or food drive.
Fostering gratitude in our homes and with our families helps children learn and grow in society. It encourages healthy relationships with co-workers, families, and friends as they grow older. What’s more important is it unifies communities and creates a caring environment.
For more fun Thanksgiving ideas, try these out: