Don’t Tell Your Kids to Say ‘Thank You’ This Thanksgiving

. . . and other do’s and don’ts for showing gratitude

By Mary O’Donohue

During the holiday season and especially Thanksgiving, the focus is on giving thanks. Surrounded by family and loved ones amid a huge feast, the tradition is all about realizing we should be grateful. Every Thanksgiving, parents teach their children the importance of acknowledging such thankfulness, encouraging them to voice the things for which they are grateful.
But gratitude should be encouraged and practiced throughout the year—not just on Thanksgiving. Here are some tips for making the most out of your Thanksgiving for everyone at your table, from your children to your guests.

DON’T. . . ask each guest at the table to say what they’re thankful for while the food gets cold in front of them! Take a moment to pray together as a family, or have one person say a few words of gratitude, and then invite everyone to enjoy the delicious feast while it’s still hot.

DO. . . purchase a small poster board (such as 14-by-22 inches). Have your kids turn it into a “Thanksgiving Gratitude Board” and display it where everyone can see. Put out colorful markers and ask each guest to write down what they’re grateful for. (Make sure they sign and date their comments.) Bring it out every year. Or buy an inexpensive journal and make it your family’s “Gratitude Book.” Have guests add to it every Thanksgiving; you’ll have a beautiful record of your family’s and loved ones’ gratitude.

DON’T. . . prompt your children to say thank you, whether they mean it or not—especially at Thanksgiving!

DO. . . help your kids make the connection between being grateful and saying thank you by focusing on the importance of making a “match” between what they’re feeling and how to express it. Let them know that each part is important—both the feeling and the words, and one without the other simply isn’t as powerful.

DON’T. . . talk about politics, religion or Aunt Bertha’s gallbladder surgery at the dinner table this year.

DO. . . start a new tradition. Create a “Gratitude Circle,” where everyone at the table says something positive about the person sitting to their left. For example, “I’m thankful for Aunt Katie because of her cheerful personality. She always has a way of lifting me up when I’m down.” This way of expressing gratitude can be especially powerful for children, who might not always notice the intangible gifts they receive from their family—gifts such as compassion, humor, companionship, and love.

DON’T. . . let Thanksgiving be the only day of the year your family focuses on gratitude.

DO. . . practice gratitude each and every day with your family. Put up a dry erase board in a hallway in your home and encourage everyone to write down what they’re grateful for every night before bedtime. Or display a decorative box in your kitchen and label it a “Thanks for Nothing Box.” Fill it with small pieces of paper and a few pens, so everyone in the family can write mini thank you notes for those intangible things you give each other on a daily basis. Once a week around dinnertime, open the box and read the notes aloud. This will help ensure that blessings of Thanksgiving stay with your family throughout the year.