For Americans blessed with abundance, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for family and friends to come together, eat delicious food, and think about all they’re grateful for.
I’m mindful that many Native Americans view the holiday as a day of mourning, and that for people without a home or lacking the means to create a feast, Thanksgiving may be a reminder of struggle or lack of options or opportunity.
Still, we can use Thanksgiving as a prompt to flex our gratitude muscles.
Gratitude correlates with many positive outcomes, including social consciousness and action. Research shows, for example, that grateful teens “are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.” *
Like any other skill, developing a sense of gratitude takes practice.
You can help your child begin the process by talking about things you feel thankful for and by making a weekly practice where each family member names something they’re grateful for that week.
As my kids were growing up, we did this every Friday night as we celebrated Shabbat. On weeks when a big event happened, they had no problem thinking of something (“I’m thankful that our friend surprised us with a visit”), but on other weeks it proved more challenging. Those weeks actually helped us dig deeper: we were thankful for our food, our warm home, our family members and friends, even for being alive.
A “Thankfulness Tree” offers another way to start your preschooler on a path of gratitude. It’s easy. Just cut some pieces of brown paper from extra paper shopping bags or from construction paper. Use masking tape to attach the pieces to a wall, forming a trunk and some branches.
Then use green construction paper - or red, yellow, and orange for fall colors - to pencil in and cut out leaves. You can download some good cut-outs of leaves to trace, from simple birch leaf shapes to more complicated maple leaves - here: http://www.printablee.com/post_paper-printable-leaf-patterns_142628/.
Talk with your child about things they’re grateful for, write them on a leaf, and tape it to a branch. Some of our preschoolers said:
“I’m thankful that my mom had a baby - me!”
“I’m thankful for my race car.”
“I’m thankful that my mom gave me kisses today.”
For the next week or two, have all of your family members add a leaf every day until your tree is full. Once it’s full, read everything on the leaves to your child, saying, “We have a lot to be thankful for!"
Don’t forget to take a picture - you’ll want to save these memories for when your child is older!