The children finally get home with their bags full of candy after a night of trick or treating. They take off their costumes and begin gorging on their candy horn of plenty.
The next day at the store, one of the children points to a display and says, “Look mommy, it’s Christmas!” This is soon followed by the child saying, “Oh, that is the toy I really want for Christmas. Make sure Santa knows I want that one.”
The distance between the two buying holidays of Halloween and Christmas seem to diminish every year. The one holiday that is largely written off by retailers is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a big gift giving holiday. Rather, the focus of Thanksgiving is to be grateful and enjoy time with family.
It is easy to see why children get led astray during the holidays and focus on material possessions. This is where parents can step in and refocus their children on something truly valuable, gratitude. Gratitude is being thankful for what they have and showing appreciation for others’ efforts and kindness.
While the toys, games, and other presents children receive quickly fade in value, the ability to express gratitude only grows. Grateful children and adolescents have higher levels of happiness and optimism. They also have lower levels of depression and stress. These are presents that children can truly appreciate for years to come.
Gratitude has to be taught to children and parents modeling grateful behavior is one of the best ways that they can learn. Thanksgiving is a good time to start modeling gratitude since the holiday was started as a time to give thanks for one’s blessings.
Parents can start by discussing the origin of Thanksgiving with their children and why we celebrate it. The way the Native Americans and Pilgrims were able to put aside their differences can be a model for how families can put aside their differences for Thanksgiving. Instead of focusing on differences, family members can focus on aspects of their family for which they are grateful.
The focus on gratitude and sharing can be extended throughout the day as family members talk about various Thanksgiving traditions their family observes. Some families may play football outside before dinner while others make sure to watch the Thanksgiving parade. These traditions and stories can help bond family members from the youngest child to the oldest adult.
As families prepare the Thanksgiving meal, children should be allowed to help out. This way children can appreciate the effort involved in preparing meals and the joy that results when the meal is shared with family members. This is also a good time for family members to comment on their favorite dish and why they like it so much. When dinner is served, family members can talk about something they are thankful for in their lives. This reinforces to children that everyone has a reason to be thankful.
While Thanksgiving is a good time to start children thinking about gratitude, parents need to continue modeling gratitude and being thankful throughout the year. Start your own new Thanksgiving tradition and make the holiday one of gratitude.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on November 23, 2014.