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Teaching Children Thankfulness at Thanksgiving

Like many of our secular American holidays, Thanksgiving has become a time to watch football, gather with the family, and eat. Our children typically learn a generic version of the Thanksgiving tale in school, and most of us neglect to carry that learning further while at the Thanksgiving table.

Thanksgiving is actually the perfect time to let your family values shine. What mom does not want to raise a child who is grateful and thankful for what they have in life? Sometimes, we are so busy preparing the Thanksgiving meal, gearing up to face the family, or doing other things – that we don’t have time to contemplate how we might add another dimension to our Thanksgiving festivities.

Here are a few ideas that are easy to implement into your family’s Thanksgiving celebration.

Religious Freedom The pilgrims ventured to a new land seeking religious freedom. Talk about what this has meant or continues to mean for your family. Discuss the history of your religion and any persecution your ancestors might have faced. Talk about the religious expressions in your family’s daily life. What would it mean not to be able to do those things?

The Harvest Thanksgiving is centered on the fall harvest. Where does our food come from? How lucky are we to have this food on our table? Take a moment to consider others who are not as fortunate and struggle to put food on the table.

Gratitude Often times, we sit down to our meal with the best of intentions. We plan to go around the table and share what we are grateful for. Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen. Make it easier by creating a Gratitude Bag. Label index cards with words like “eyes”, “ears”, and “soccer balls”. Invite family members to select a card and share why they are thankful for the item they selected. (idea from The Women’s Jewish Learning Center, Scottsdale, Arizona)

Differences The history of Thanksgiving (as told from a Pilgrim’s perspective) is a coming together of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people. Spend some time exploring the two different cultures who merged at the “thanksgiving table”. Use this discussion to talk about differences between people – do we embrace them or shun them? How can we respect another’s way of living without infringing upon their rights?

Thanks Create a time capsule filled with your thankfulness. Invite family and guests to write the things they are thankful for this year. Seal them up in a box and save it for the following year. Before repeating the activity next year, read the “thankful cards” from the prior year.

Doing Take “we are thankful” one step further. Go beyond expressing gratitude for the shoes on your feet. Donate shoes to an organization that distributes them to others who are not as fortunate. Apply this to any feeling of gratitude – put your gratitude into action.

Individual thanks Go around the holiday table and invite your children to thank each person individually for something specific that person has done for them. They can also write letters to someone (a friend, a teacher, a coach) whom they would like to thank. This is not just for the kids. Make sure you participate too.

One day a year, we come together as a family in celebration and honor of Thanksgiving. Our actions, however, can continue all year round. Thanksgiving is a powerful time of year to start gratitude journals, helping others, and looking at the world through awe-filled lenses.


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Content copyright © 2013 by Lisa Polovin Pinkus. All rights reserved.
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