This month I want to focus on gratitude. Being thankful for what we have, being aware of others who have not. I want to make sure my boys know the importance of being thankful for all the blessings in their lives — and also that they understand the importance of paying it forward. There’s a saying about being “blessed to be a blessing to others.” Helping others isn’t a one way street. It benefits us too — it grows character and deepens empathy.
So, this November, we’ll be doing several things to cultivate gratitude.
Make a Gratitude Frame or Jar.
I love looking at all the fancy Pinterest projects that focus on giving thanks and recognizing our good fortune. I’ve had friends tell me the best thing they ever did was put up a gratitude poster in their kitchen, where everyone wrote down things they were thankful for throughout the week. I saw an adorable shadowbox picture frame that was filled with slips of paper on things to give thanks for.
Last year, I helped Toby make one of these. We used a plastic peanut butter jar (cleaned, of course), and strips of brightly colored paper. He told me things he was thankful for and I wrote each item and drew a picture of it on the paper. He enjoyed pulling them out and talking about the things we should be grateful for in our lives.
We’ll do something similar this year — I’m thinking a garland of paper slips or something (but not fall leaves since it’s already snowed here in Michigan).
Donate our excess and unused items.
Throughout the year, we gather bagfuls of things we no longer need or use — and take them to be donated. I include my boys in this errand, as it helps to make it real for them. We have more than we need. By donating things, we can share with those who are not as fortunate.
There is a local place called House By the Side of the Road that I like to take our donations to. It doesn’t resell the items, but rather offers them freely to members of the community who are in need. Sometimes we’ll take donations to the more standard Salvation Army, Purple Heart, etc.
Take meals to new moms and the sick.
Our church has a meals ministry, where you can sign up to take a meal to the new moms, or those undergoing surgery or recovering from illness. This is a good way to give back to the community …and I can involve my toddler with the process too. Sometimes there is nothing more helpful than the delivery of a home cooked meal, ready to be eaten. And we can share out of the abundance of food in our pantry.
Keeping an open dialogue.
Toddlers notice everything. And they aren’t blind to the injustices in this world. Whether it’s something as child-like as the refusal to share a toy, or the more “adult” (for lack of a better word) concern of homelessness — they are experiencing life around them and it is our job as parents to help them process these things.
When Toby and another boy were both in tears about who had the swing first, I gently asked my son to give the swing to the other boy, even though Toby may have had it first. As my son willingly forfeited “his” swing, I was struck by his generous heart — I am thankful for opportunities to teach selfless compassion. Other opportunities arise when we walk past the homeless on the sidewalk, or spot someone who needs a hand getting the door open. Yes, there are bigger problems in this world than whose swing it is, but by cultivating gratitude on a small scale, our children can learn to apply it on a larger level.
Remembering to talk about why I’m thankful.
I’ve been trying to focus on being thankful. Cultivating gratitude for the many blessings in my life, or even the little things. By talking about these things with my boys, I can help them understand just how much in life there is we can be thankful for:
- Friends who share without reserve, family who takes care of me. So many of the blessings I encounter involve friends and family. In the same day, I was blessed unexpectedly with handmedowns for our newborn… and during a rough afternoon, was grateful that my boys were being entertained by family (and we were treated to takeout!). It’s the little things that let people know you care.
- Sleep. I’m so grateful for a newborn who sleeps for long stretches — often 6-7 hours at night. It’s the complete opposite of what my first son did as a newborn (woke every 1-2 hrs). The extra long stretches of sleep are such a blessing for my sanity. I’m also thankful that my toddler is content to play by himself while mommy takes a nap from time to time.
- Beautiful sunrises. My toddler woke up one morning, came downstairs, and stopped dead in his tracks as he looked out the window. Then he turned to me and exclaimed, “look at the beautiful sunrise!” He then proceeded to describe it: “light, dark, light dark, light!” The clouds had indeed formed a gorgeous pattern for us to enjoy. I’m so thankful that my son reminded me to enjoy the beauty of nature today.
What ways do you cultivate gratitude in your children?