What are some ways that your family expresses its gratitude, whether during November or all year long? Do you include your little ones in the conversation?
Now that we've had our Halloween fun, our family is excited about November. We have so much to be thankful for this month, it's awesome. Between expecting our second little one later next week and one of our favorite holidays shortly thereafter, we're as pleased as punch! While we love the fun of Halloween, the mayhem (and excessive candy consumption) aren't our favorite thing ever. Thanksgiving, however, has so much going for it. It's one of those holidays that everyone can get behind. It's a chance to cook a great meal, catch up with family and, unless you work retail or are police/emergency workers (to you I say THANK YOU!), a day to relax and reflect. No need to fight crowds finding the right gift. It *generally* doesn't start a religious argument on Facebook. But, the best part of Thanksgiving? The gratitude. This year, I'm hoping to start having more of a dialogue with our three-year-old about exactly what this holiday means. Now is the perfect time to start thinking about how to put it into a little one's perspective, so today I'm sharing some tips on how to do just that. Choose a charity. Sure, you could choose several (we actually do), but discussing what your family's priorities are and making the choice together to support one cause, it lets your child know that "others matter to us and we care enough to help." It's a huge lesson in a small package. So, in our case, we're huge animal lovers. Since we have three awesome rescue cats that have absolutely changed our lives, there's a special place in our hearts for our local humane society. We'll check out the list of items that the shelter needs and have Hadley do the shopping with us. While shopping, we'll talk about why they need different items and simply explain what the shelter does for the little furry souls within. And, of course, he'll be a part of the drop-off to see firsthand where our purchases go. Whether it's buying toys for a Toys for Tots campaign or volunteering to ring the bell at a Salvation Army kettle for a couple of hours or buying a meal for a family in need, small actions will not only help the lives of others, but will provide meaningful memories and lessons to your own family. Gently discuss others' hardships. While a toddler may be too young to view the truly harsh realities of, say, serving homeless people in a soup kitchen, I've made it a point to let our son know that others aren't quite as lucky as we are. Especially on those moody "I don't want THIS toy, I want THAT toy!!!" days, the idea of need vs. want is a big topic of interest. Most kindergartners learn this lesson, but it truly needs to start at home (and is one that we adults can use a refresher lesson in, as well). You can actually do this in a fun way, after explaining the basic difference between needs and wants. Create some flashcards with cheesy clip art images and the word for each image, being sure to include types of healthy foods, a home for "shelter," and other "needs"; place plenty of "wants" on other cards. Then, as your child turns over cards, they can sort them into its respective pile. Alternately, you can also have your child practice their safe scissor skills by cutting out needs/wants from old magazines and sort them on a piece of paper. Rely on a book. Sometimes difficult subjects can leave us, as parents, at a loss for words. So, as a school librarian, my next step is usually to search for books that will help things go smoother. Oftentimes, beloved characters in sticky situations can teach our son far more than a conversation. There are plenty of books to choose from, but my jumping-off point is The Giving Tree. I actually find this book to be a bit of a downer, but millions of people can't be wrong, right? Plus, our son doesn't often see the melancholy and takes lessons at face value -- which this book is actually excellent for. Be sure to discuss the unconditional love shown by the tree and how the relationship changes between the boy and the tree by the end of the story. Get crafty. Call them what you want -- Thankful Tree, Grateful Tree, Tree of Thanks -- the idea is to reflect and share what you're grateful for. Isn't it a great idea? You can grab some sticks and twigs to make a cool decorative version, a kid-centric handprint one, or just grab a free printable like the one here at Craftionary. Or, you can easily fall down the rabbit hole of Pinterest for even more ideas. Just make sure that whatever option you choose, you get the whole family involved! These are so flexible, it's up to you how you do it. Many people will add one "grateful leaf" per day during November, sharing things big and small that they're grateful to have. Others will jot down several right before (or the day of) Thanksgiving. You can display it and ask guests to add their thoughts to your tree or just use it as a great conversation starter. Share the meaning of Thanksgiving with your little one. Whether you're a religious family or lean more secular, it's a great tradition to say grace or start the Thanksgiving meal with some sort of "giving of thanks." Why not have your little one take over with that task this year? I remember what a big deal it was when I was a child to be asked to handle this responsibility. More important than the silver I had been asked to polish or the pies I had helped assemble, our "grace" was straight from the book. Today, my family is more of what we would call a spiritual-but-not-religious family, but the meaning still holds true. After you've had plenty of conversation this month about gratefulness, feel free to let your little one pick what they're most thankful for to share. They can do a traditional grace or start the ball rolling with a go-around-the-table share session. And you know that, no matter what comes out of their mouth, it will make for a memorable holiday.