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Dear Nadine,
We’d like our spirited kids to appreciate the blessings in their life not just at Thanksgiving but every day. Do you have any ideas? — With gratitude, The Kendalls

This past Monday my son Leo presented his teacher with a box of chocolates. The chocolates celebrated no birthday, no Teacher Day. They celebrated neither a National holiday nor a State holiday. Those chocolates were a “just because” Leo wanted to. He spent his entire month’s pocket money on those $3.99 chocolates, and while they weren’t Godiva or Ghirardelli, they were his 7-year-old’s way of saying “thank you” to his new teacher. And to me, they were priceless!

I’ve been cultivating an attitude of gratitude in all of my children since they could walk. Whether it’s a simple thank you at the cash register, a thank you note to grandma, whether it’s a thank you prayer, or a thank you fundraiser, I want my kids to know what’s important in life (kindness and caring) and to know that whatever challenges they face (and they will face challenges) that if they stop, breathe and count their blessings, they’ll see the joy not the hardship, and that will buoy them through anything.

Tara’s mom agrees. “My 10 year old has a severe learning disability. Tara has to work incredibly hard to keep her math grades at a C-level. It’s been tough for her. One day last month, Tara arrived home crying. She’d felt embarrassed in math class again. I tried to reassure her and make her feel better, but she was having none of it. Only when I asked her to think about all of the wonderful things in her life — including the good fortune of winning a dance scholarship this year — was she able to regain her positive attitude again. Gratitude helped her heal.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and author of the book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, also believes that gratitude is good medicine. In a series of studies, Emmons and his colleagues systematically encouraged participants to develop gratitude through the keeping of gratitude journals. The results were inspiring. Studies on more than a thousand people aged between 8 and 80 showed that when people consistently practiced gratitude, they were physically, psychologically and socially more robust. People who think thankfulness, have “heartier immune systems, are less likely to complain about aches and pains and have lower blood pressure. They are more alert, alive, joyful and positive, more forgiving, outgoing and social,” Emmons notes. As John Henry Jowett succinctly said, “Gratitude is a vaccine, antitoxin and antiseptic!” He was right!

So, if gratitude is good for us mind, body and spirit, how do we help our spirited kids develop that gratitude attitude? Dr. Sheela Raja, a clinical psychologist at the University of Illinois- Chicago, says, “Gratitude is…about feeling thankful, and it’s about expressing it, too.” And that, of course, is where we should start this Thanksgiving.

Master Reiki teacher Melissa Bieber and owner of Nature’s Divine (Becker, MN) says, “Thanksgiving dinner offers every family a perfect opportunity to express their gratitude out loud. Kids love to see and hear their parents give thanks, and it’s a great opportunity for parents to role-model how to express feelings of gratitude, to their kids.” That’s important, because at a younger age, children aren’t developmentally wired to think outside of themselves and their needs. Gratitude has to be coached, and role-modeling gratefulness at the turkey table is a great way to achieve that.

Of course, some families take a more creative approach to developing that gratitude attitude. The Marston family has a Gratitude Tablecloth that they write on each year at Thanksgiving. The Ryans write out notes for their Gratitude Box on turkey day. This year, we’ve decided to put up a small Gratitude Tree that will sit beside our Christmas tree and remind us of all that’s important in our lives. Author Carol McCloud’s wonderful book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, also offers up other great ways that you and your kids can express kindness, appreciation and love for your lives this Thanksgiving.

So spread the gratitude attitude to the spirited kids in your life this November. Teach your children to recognize and celebrate the many blessings in their life and open up their hearts to the beauty of their world. There are many ways we can teach our kids to embrace gratitude, but when we boil gratitude down to its bare (turkey) bones, all our kids really need to know is a single word — “thanks!” — and to remember to serve up gratitude not just on turkey day, but every day of the year.

Develop an Attitude of Gratitude in Your Kids!

  1. Keep a gratitude journal
  2. Keep a family gratitude list and post it on the refrigerator
  3. Go around the dinner table at dinnertime and have everyone say something that they’re grateful for
  4. Write thank you notes
  5. Say thank you at the cash register
  6. Tell someone each day what you appreciate about them
  7. Tell a teacher how they’ve helped you and say thank you
  8. Say a prayer of thanks for all the good things in your life
  9. Fundraise on behalf of an organization that has helped you, such as Guides or Scouts
  10. Offer to help someone who has helped you as your way of saying “thank you!”
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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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