Fall tends to remind us of the importance of gratitude. As a parent, I usually have big aspirations for building that sense of appreciation in my children. It is wonderful to take them somewhere where they can experience the lives of others with less and take steps to help them in some way. I have grand dreams of doing something fulfilling, like helping build houses, at least once a month. I conveniently forget in these fantasies that it takes me a good ten swings and a few adjustments with a hammer to get one nail in place! We do get to these types of (non-construction) things and they are important, but how can we develop this sense of awareness and thankfulness in the middle of the grind of our more day-to-day lives?

Here are five super simple activities to get your kids thinking about gratitude:

  • Use the Car Rides

Put a spin on an old standby car game. Instead of looking for letters, out-of-state license plates, or in our family’s case, cute dogs hanging out of windows, look for things you’re thankful for or things that make you happy. I think I’m even going to try this with my older kids. I fully expect answers like, “I see a donut shop. I’d be really grateful if we stopped for one,” or “There’s XYZ High School. I’m really grateful I don’t have to go there.” What they won’t necessarily realize, is that even those snarky comments are training their brains to find the positive in the world around them. It’s likely some of that spills into their more intimate thoughts.

  • Pull Out Your Phone

Have everyone in the family think about a person they are thankful is in their lives. Then take a few minutes to call and chat, send a quick text with an encouraging note, or, for the littlest ones, a cute picture or video. A friend of mine sent an encouraging text out of the blue last week, and it nearly brought me to tears. Taking time for a quick Thank You or I Love You will not only brighten someone’s day, but reminds you and your kids they have so many people in their lives to be grateful for.

  • November “Secret Santa”

Everybody is familiar with the idea of Secret Santa. For the month, or the week, of Thanksgiving, give this old idea a new twist. Each family member picks a name from a hat without showing anyone else. Then they find some way to do something extra nice for that person. At the end of your timeframe, talk about what you did for each other and how it felt to give and receive!

  • Frame Their Day

Give kids a positive framework for their days. Ask them each morning, what they’re most looking forward to. Then in the evening, ask them what the best part of the day was. While avoiding the words grateful or thankful, these tasks shift the brain into thinking about the positives in their lives rather than what they didn’t get or have.

  • Dinner Talk

Take the opportunity when you are all together and able to talk, to use some of the facts below as conversation starters. Ask them things like “What do you think that’s like?” or “What would you do if…?” These facts are all from DoSomething.org and emphasize poverty around the world. It is easy to focus on who has more than we do or how we are lacking in certain things. Just picturing the reality of children in other parts of the world can put our lives very quickly into perspective.

Facts:

  • Half of the people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day. 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day which puts them in “extreme poverty.”
  • 22,000 kids die because of that poverty EVERY DAY.
  • 805 MILLION people around the world do not have enough to eat.
  • A fourth of the world’s people live without electricity.

As a citizen of the world, I frequently feel like I should be doing more. As a mom, I realize that it’s okay that we don’t spend every afternoon volunteering. We do what we can. And, in the meantime, raising the next generation to recognize what they have and work towards giving to others IS doing something.