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Helping Your Kids Say Thanks

Ways your children can express gratitude this season.

One memory I have of being especially grateful during this time of year occurred October 30 at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light, when some Meher Schools students and alumni--all members of the White Horse Youth Chorale--performed with YouTube sensation Friar Alessandro Brustenghi for low-income kids from San Francisco and Oakland.

A photo of the girls laughing and hugging Friar Alessandro captures the joy of the event, and looking at it makes me feel deeply grateful for the remarkable efforts of the girls, their choir director, Terry Hogan Johnson, and the cooperation of more people than I can count. (For more information about the nondenominational Francis in the Schools program, go to Francisintheschools.org.)

In America, we celebrate Thanksgiving to remember a transformative collaboration: The day the first settlers gathered in thankfulness with Native Americans for a successful year of living in the new world. Historians say the pilgrims wouldn’t have survived the first year without the help of the indigenous peoples who showed them how to plant crops in the soil.

Likewise, Thanksgiving seems to be an opportune time to give thanks for people who have helped us, cooperated with us, and played a part in making our lives flourish. I like the practice of expressing gratitude for the people in my life, and finding ways to help children learn the benefits of being thankful for others. Mary Jane Ryan, author of the bestselling book Attitudes of Gratitude, emphasizes that we need to teach children to feel and express gratitude starting when they are young. “Gratitude is a learned trait, not something we are born with,” she writes.

Here are a few ways you can promote gratitude in your children and home:

Look at photos to remind you of the important people in your lives. Flipping through photo albums gives us the opportunity to say, “Remember when Grandma took you to see a play? That was such a fun day.” One easy way to do this is to create Thanksgiving albums the family can reflect on in future years.

Make a list of people who help you. Thinking and talking about the people who play a helpful role in your family’s life heightens children’s awareness of the importance of interconnectedness. It also helps to broaden a child’s perspective of what “helpfulness” is. Mention parents who drive the carpool, neighbors who bring banana bread, or store clerks who spread good cheer.

Write thank-you notes. Thanksgiving is a good time to thank the people who deserve it. Encourage your child to write notes or draw pictures of appreciation for other people. Use prompts like, “Remember the day the office receptionist comforted you when you felt sick?” or “Let’s write to thank Angela’s mother for taking you on so many fun adventures.”

Look online for gratitude projects. Pinterest has wonderful visuals of Thanksgiving projects for children, many of which center on expressing gratitude. Or, Google “gratitude project” to find a few organizations that are using the Web to promote thankfulness.

For more on gratitude, check out UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

Susan Isaacs Kohl is the author of five parenting books, The Best Things Parents Do: ideas and insights from real-world parents; I think I Can I Know I Can (with Wendy Ritchey Phd) using self-talk to raise confident, secure kids; Who’s In Control: A Parent’s Guide to Discipline; How to Organize Your Kid’s Room; and The Inner Parent. She has written for Parents, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Diablo, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is the preschool director at The White Pony School and the Director Mentor for Diablo Valley College.

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Added: 2017-03-07

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