Being grateful is well, great — great for your health, great for your kids, and great for everyone around you. Studies show grateful people are less depressed and stressed and report higher levels of happiness and optimism. So how do you encourage gratitude in your family? Start at home — ideally around the dinner table. And what better day than Thanksgiving? Here are some fun, simple ways to sprinkle a little gratitude into your Thanksgiving with activities and traditions the kids (and grown-ups) will love and look forward to year after year.
1. I Am Thankful For You Pillows
Little ones (big ones too) will wake up feeling appreciated with a personalized gratitude pillow either bought online or created at home with Sharpie markers and paint pens. Ours go on our beds every Thanksgiving Eve no matter how far we roam.
2. Volunteer As A Family
Coordinate calendars and schedule some time to volunteer together as a group and give back. The Ronald McDonald House is one place where families can come together to cook dinner, bake cookies, or plan fun activity nights for guests staying away from home to care for hospitalized children.
3. Create A Thank-You-Note Station
What’s more elegant, old fashioned, and more treasured than a personal note of thanks? And the sentiment certainly stands out in our whiling, twirling world of texts and Snapchats. Keep kiddos busy with a thank-you-note station — set out stationery, envelopes, stamps, and fun stickers — and encourage them to show gratitude to the people in their lives with a personal note of thanks. Those special notes can be addressed, stamped, and sent, or hand delivered that day with a big hug.
4. Cupcake-Decorating Station
If there’s one type of gratitude that comes easily to little kids, it’s being thankful for dessert. This year, have little ones decorate their sweet treat with messages of gratitude. “Family,” “School,” “Friends,” and “Health” are just a few toppers to try out.
5. Gratitude Goblets
Make Thanksgiving extra special for Grandma, Grandpa, or Uncle Joe and Aunt Sally with Gratitude Goblets you and the kids make ahead of time and place at family members’ place settings. Simply write a message of thanks on wine glasses. No reason to muck up your Waterford collection — your local dollar store sells them for, yep, a dollar. Surprise guests with heartfelt messages like, “Grandma, I am so thankful you come to my volleyball games.” Your guests will certainly feel their cup hath runneth over, no matter the pour.
6. Flower Power
These flowers will live forever in your guests’ hearts. Paper or cardboard flowers are easy to make with construction paper or poster board petals, a button in the center, and green pipe cleaner for a stem. A small milk jug makes a handy vase. The fun part is writing what you are most grateful for on each petal. Everyone gets their own flower set by their plate. For Grandma, the petals could read “Great Cooking” or “Best Hugs,” and for Dad, “Our Superhero” or “Silliest Dancer.”
7. Gobble Gratitude: Talking Turkey
Kids will have fun making this simple turkey that never dries out! Just start with a funnel, then add straws, note cards, ping-pong balls for eyes, and a candy corn beak.
8. Name Tags
Use your place-setting name tags as a way to remind family and friends why you appreciate them. Get as clever as you can — Scrabble tiles and small frames look fancy and really make your message pop.
9. Gratitude Tablecloth
A time-honored tradition for many families, this is easy to make and easily transferrable as you celebrate from house to house or take the holiday on the road. Guests are invited to write on the tablecloth — Sharpies do the trick — and list what they are most grateful for with a hand-traced turkey. As the years go by, watch those hand-drawn turkeys get bigger and the powerful lessons of gratitude become more intricately woven in the canvas of your family life.
Donna Bozzo is author of the book “What the Fun?!: 427 Ways to Have Fantastic Family Fun” (Penguin) and is a frequent TV contributor appearing on Chicago TV stations, TODAY, and shows across the country. Next fall, look for her new book on the power of sensory play, “Fidget Busters” (Countryman/W.W.Norton).