Before slathering the turkey with gravy or piling plates high with mashed potatoes, families all over the Capital District are likely to use Thanksgiving as a time to express to all the ways they are thankful.
After all, gratitude and Thanksgiving tend to go hand-in-hand. But when the day is said and done, many may ask themselves why they don’t do this kind of thing more often — not just on Thanksgiving.
With Twitter hashtags such as #RAKE and #26ACTS, and the 30-Day Facebook Thankfulness Challenge, it’s pretty clear the act of being grateful has caught on with social media.
How many people have pulled up to a Dunkin Donuts drive-up window to find out the person in front of them has already paid for their coffee? Experts say that is a step in the right direction, but it takes more.
Studies have linked gratitude with improved moods, better relationships and an overall enhanced wellbeing, but how do we instill that value in our children, who are living in what many see as a self-centered, materialistic world 365 days of the year?
“Regularly practicing empathy with children models empathy and increases their chances of learning when and how to use it.”
— Giacomo Bono, author of the book “Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character”
A psychologist and author of the book “Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character” says it starts with a positive role model.
“To make a grateful kid, learn to manage your own emotional experiences first,” says Giacomo Bono, Ph.D.
Feeling grateful is a skill that can be developed — even in a natural pessimist, according to Bono. In his book, Bono says that gratitude is one of the most valuable and important emotions that humans possess and is one that almost anyone can acquire.
“Do this by moving quickly past the negative events and stretching out the positive events,” Bono says, adding that in today’s world, it’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and forget what really matters.
“One of the silent enemies of happiness in modern life is busyness. In the toil of life, we simply forget to listen actively, provide help or say thanks to others,” he says.
Bono says simply reminding yourself to do this is a good start.
Keep in mind that emotions are often contagious. By expressing thankfulness to friends, family, neighbors and strangers, your children are more likely to be grateful too. While in the grocery store for example, if you see someone trying to get something from a high shelf in the market, get it for them. Simply hold the door for someone, let someone go ahead of you in the grocery checkout line, smile at people and say “good morning” or “hello” or compliment a stranger, especially if they appear to be feeling blue.
“Regularly practicing empathy with children models empathy and increases their chances of learning when and how to use it,” Bono says.
By sneaking thankfulness and a caring way into everyday life, we begin to live gratefully rather than learning gratitude.
“From inviting friends over on a hot day to play in the sprinklers or to go swimming to finding out what a friend’s favorite cereal is and buying it when the friend sleeps over,” Bono says. “Regardless of the act, the more in tune a child is to his friend’s needs and interests, the more the friendship will be strengthened because of the gratitude generated by his thoughtfulness and the reciprocity that will likely result.”
Encouraging thank you notes, baking for a sick friend or mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor is all part of teaching children how to be caring individuals.
Bono says promoting generosity closer to home, such as toward neighbors or friends, teaches children about appreciation and the value of community.
“When kids volunteer to help collect the mail or take out the trash for a neighbor, babysit or dog-sit for a friend of the family, or assist a classmate with their homework, they learn about the effort it takes to be kind to others and see firsthand how their kindness is appreciated,” he says. “Usually, such kind acts tend to become reciprocated so that a child eventually discovers that building community feels good and helps make life better for everyone.”
An Albany mom of three, Jennifer Steuer says she regularly talks with her kids about the needs of others.
“The children know that by donating food and clothes, they are helping other families,” she says.
Julia Cadieux, an Albany mom of two and certified parent coach, says for children to develop a sense of gratitude, they need to understand the blessings in their lives are the result of someone else’s effort and sacrifice.
“Children need to know that good things are the result of generous and hard-working people. Getting kids to appreciate our efforts on their behalf can start with early teaching on how to help others,” she says.
Cadieux adds that even though sometimes having a toddler help fold laundry can be frustrating, allowing children to work alongside parents is an important step in developing gratitude.
“Not only do these helpful kids gain necessary life skills, they gain a felt sense of purpose from doing something to contribute to their family’s wellbeing,” she says.
Bono says it is also important to let children know that what they did was thoughtful and made someone feel good.
“It’s a good idea to not only encourage such generous acts in children, but to praise and thank them for such behaviors afterward,” Bono says.
If families made it a habit to say one thing they are grateful for at breakfast, dinner or at bedtime each day, it just becomes part of regular conversation. It could be as simple as being thankful for a good night’s sleep, the beautiful weather or being able to sleep in that morning. If your child enjoys keeping a journal, encourage a gratitude journal. All of these acts will begin to create the habit of looking for the positive things in life.
With the right steps, your family can keep that gratitude momentum going and make Thanksgiving last all year long.