In Appreciation: 3 Ways to Practice Kindness and Teach Gratitude During the Holidays
Three Ways to Teach Gratitude in Time with the Season
With the many weekends of harvest festivals winding down and Thanksgiving right around the corner, the air is thick with the pumpkin spice aroma of, well, everything, and it is hard to miss that another season of thanks is upon us. While every day is an opportunity to be grateful, with children I find this season in particular can offer some prime opportunities to practice gratitude in unique ways. For my family, there are a few variations on familiar themes of gratitude that I have found work to teach both gratitude and interconnectedness, the latter of which helps teach how far our circles of gratitude really can reach.
This first practice is one I only recently learned (with many thanks to my mother-in-law, who introduced it to us during a recent visit). During her trip, I had finally got my Pinterest-deficient self in gear and had purchased some orange and black construction paper so the kids could make festive paper chains to string up in the house as decorations. As they worked on this project with my mother-in-law, she introduced a lovely idea that will heretofore become a ritual in our house. On each strip of cardboard, before you glue it in a ring and add it to the chain, you write something you are grateful for on it.
Immediately, the kids were enamored with this idea. Last year I wrote about the Gratitude Table, a practice where we go around in a circle at dinner each night and say what we were grateful for that day. That practice is still very strong in our house, mostly due to the kids’ own enthusiasm for it. But what I loved about this particular variation, by writing them down and linking them in a chain, is that when it was completed, we had a living room literally decorated with words of gratitude. I look at those chains every day, and think about the words and the people who created it, a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness.
Moving from literal interconnectedness to the figurative, another version of the gratitude practice that works well in this season is thinking about the Thanksgiving meal and what we are grateful for as we prepare it. This again, is a chance to dig deeper and push ourselves to think outside our typical lens of gratitude that may focus on the immediate spheres of friends and family. We are a community rich in local farms. This is a chance to ask children, and yourself, to think about the farmer who wakes up before dawn to take care of his animals and vegetables, the person who works through the night to stock food at the grocery store, the soil and water that allow the food to grow, and on and on. With the creativity of children, this can span us far out into our networks, and far back in time, before we exhaust the vast list of people (and more) to be grateful for.
The third practice hearkens back to what I wrote earlier about writing letters of gratitude. The idea here is to expand your usual gratitude reach, thinking of a person that is farther out in your gratitude chain, and singling them out to give them special thanks. For me, it is librarians. The kids and I love our local library. The children’s librarians at my library are amazing people, and yet besides thanking them every time we check out a book, and taking part in a few fundraisers, we don’t really show our appreciation. However, there is probably no single place in my town that means more! This month, our family project is to write a gratitude letter to them, and in the process, to help us all reflect on how people doing their jobs well and with kindness is something never to take for granted. And most importantly, I hope it gives the recipients of the letter joy to know they are thought of and appreciated. Because winter is long and dark, especially here in New England, and a little warmth these days goes a long way.
[Photo credit: (cc) Alan Graf; (cc) RebeccaVC1; (c) Sienna Wildfield]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy is a freelance writer and digital communications specialist who has lived in Western Massachusetts for the last ten years. The mother of two young daughters, Amy is a frequenter of coffee shops and bookstores, and an avid hiker. She is a long-time student of mindfulness meditation, and loves nothing more than a good friend, a good book, or a good nap.