When I think about Thanksgiving, I think about kindness and thankfulness. I am pretty sure most parents reading this share my desire for children to develop these character traits as early as possible. The questions is, how do we teach these concepts to young children? We know that young learners need lessons taught in a concrete manner in order for their brain to latch on to the information. I thought it might be helpful to share some of my favorite ideas for living out kindness and thankfulness with your children (and renewing them in you) this Thanksgiving season.
1. Make “Pass Them On” Cookies. I came up with this idea during my college public speaking class and it was a huge hit. First, make a batch of cookies with your kids and bag them up in a festive manner. Next, tie a blank notecard on half of the bags of cookies. Lastly, decide who needs some kindness shown to them on this particular day. Take each recipient two bags of cookies (one with a tag and one without). Invite each person to enjoy one bag of cookies for themselves and share the other one (the one with the tag) with someone else. I don’t know about you, but the minute I receive kindness from someone, I want to give kindness away. I bet they will feel the same way and you will have helped them out, twice!
2. Write Thank You Notes. This is such a fun activity to do with young children. Let your children decide who needs a thank you and what needs to be said. Write down your child’s words and invite them to decorate the note, adding a special touch. Mail the notes or hand deliver them, if you prefer. You could even combine this activity with the Pass Them On Cookies.
3. Set an extra plate for Thanksgiving. During family time, talk about people in your lives that might be alone this Thanksgiving. It might be a neighbor, a friend, or someone at your church. Reach out to at least one person this year and invite them to join your family for Thanksgiving. Your invitation might be the only thing that keeps them from being all alone this year.
4. Help someone. Do you know anyone who needs help with their lawn, maybe raking leaves for them? What about cleaning someone’s house or shopping for a mom who has a newborn? So many ways to help. Ask your children and I guarantee they will come up with a clever way to help someone this Thanksgiving season.
5. Give up your spot. An easy way to teach your children kindness, is to let them see you give up your spot in line. Now, if you have two screaming kids with you and a full cart, this is NOT the time to give up your spot. However, if all is going well invite the person behind you to go first. Actions do speak loudly.
6. Give a gift card. Last Mother’s day, I decided to randomly hand out Starbucks gift cards to moms of screaming toddlers in Target, it was the coolest. I received hugs and thank yous like you can’t imagine. I KNOW that I got more out of giving those cards than they did from receiving them. Randomly give a gift card to someone. It’s awesome. Let your kids give a gift card to their favorite grocery store employee or the postal worker. Giving is contagious and FUN!
7. Offer a smile. Have a talk with your little ones about the beauty of our smile. Have you ever been in a bad mood and look up to see someone offering a smile? I don’t know about you, but it lights me up and it can instantly turn my frown upside down. I suggest you and your kids have a smiling contest the next time you go out together. See how many times you can get a smile in return. Make a game out of it. Everyone will win at this game!
8. Take a cart. This one is so easy. The next time you and your kids go to a store, take a few minutes before you go in and offer to return someone’s cart. For safety reasons, you and your kids will do this one together. Such a fun way to help someone else, spend special time with your own children, make some memories, and teach a lesson. For fun, invite your child to climb into the cart and give them a ride to the cart return.
9. Create a Thankful Tree. This is such a fun idea and can be done in a variety of ways. Two of my favorites are: If you have a large window, you can paint a big tree and use paint markers to write down your family’s thankful list. You can also have each child paint a tree trunk on a large piece of construction paper. Glue leaves (real or paper) onto the paper and add their items of thankfulness. Laminating these placemats will make them suitable for use and they will look great on your Thanksgiving table.
10. Reach out. Simply, reach out. Who needs kindness? Maybe it is someone right inside your home. When you mess up, reach out to your kids and ask for forgiveness. If you and a friend haven’t been talking, let your kids witness you apologizing or offering forgiveness. Whatever it is, whoever it is… dare to reach out.
These ten simple acts will help your children see kindness, and thankfulness in action. This is the BEST way to teach our young ones in those early years and hopefully they will carry these lessons into adulthood. People often think that giving needs to be grand and expensive, but truly the smallest acts of kindness can make the biggest impact. Start today. May we all strive to be kind and thankful! Blessings to you and your family this Thanksgiving!