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You’ve probably heard the famous words of St. Francis of Assisi, “For it is in the giving that we receive.” But how do we translate that to real life for our children? 

When we encourage siblings to share with one another, they often do so begrudgingly. When we offer opportunities like a school supply drive or holiday toy donation to our family members, it is usually Mom or Dad footing the bill for the donated items. If we really want our family to reap the rewards of service, we are going to have to put on our work gloves and lead by example.

There is an abundant amount of scientific evidence for the benefits of altruism. There are many examples of how focusing on others not only feels good, but does us good. Of course we all want to feel happier, less depressed, and better able to regulate our own emotions. One way to grow in these areas, is by serving others.  

Depending on the age of your children, there are so many great opportunities to lend a hand. Some investigating and a few phone calls will land you the volunteer opportunity of your dreams, and bond your family in a unique way. 

When considering what type of volunteer work you wish to engage in, you could ask your family members “If you could change one thing in our community, what would it be?” or “What breaks your heart?” Family dinner discussions around these topics will start to peel back the layers of your family onion, where your hearts meet and will have a chance to make a difference. 

Some of the possibilities to serve with your children include:

Chances to do good are all around you. Pick what best suits your family and find a way to give back. You might find that you are the one who reaps some of the rewards. 

It’s Thanksgiving season and many families are focusing on what they are grateful for. You might want your children to join in but are having trouble getting kids into the spirit of the thing.

How can you make your children realize their blessings and express a bit of thankfulness for what they have? The short answer: you can’t.

Just like trying to legislate an apology by telling a child to “Say you’re sorry,” asking a child to say what he’s thankful for might not work very well. Especially if the conversation is public, maybe around the dinner table, with each person saying something in turn, you’re likely to get a mumbled answer or an answer that is seems so superficial that you’re sorry you asked.

Your child is not trying to be smart if he answers, “My PlayStation” or even “that we’re not having Brussels sprouts.” He’s answering with the first thing that comes to mind or the first thing that won’t be too embarrassing to say out loud.  Being put on the spot is never comfortable. In that situation, you also would like edit what you named as something you’re thankful for. Kids are just not quite so skilled at finding something acceptable but not uncomfortable to say.

So, don’t put your children on the spot in this way. If you do, be prepared to accept whatever answers you get, no matter how silly. Instead, cultivate gratitude this way.

  1. Model gratitude yourself. Say, “I’m thankful you’re in my life.” Say, “I’m grateful we have such a warm, comfortable home on a cold night like this.” Say, “I’m so lucky to have a good job and a happy family.” Whatever you’re grateful for, express your gratitude out loud. Give your children an example to follow.
  2. Make a family gratitude list. Get a very long strip of paper – the reverse side of several feet of wrapping paper might do – and tape it to a wall or door using painter’s tape. Let everyone add whatever they think of as the holiday season goes on – things that are silly and funny and things that are serious. Keep this going and have fun with it.
  3. Suggest that your child write down what she’s thankful for, as a private reflection. The trick to this is not ever reading it yourself.  If she reads you some of it, that’s fine. But if she offers to let you read it, tell her that you want it to be her own confidential thoughts. You don’t want to be put in the position of ‘approving’ her gratitude. You want her to be sincerely thankful on her own.
  4. Get the family involved in a volunteer project. You never have to draw the contrast between your own situation and the situation of whomever you’re helping. There’s no need to “make the point.” Let children participate and grow through the experience as you work together for the benefit of someone else.

Most of all, remember that being thankful shouldn’t be something that occurs to us only once a year, at the end of November. Make being mindful of the wonderful things in your life part of your everyday thinking.

Children learn best by example but what message will they learn? Let your kids learn not that being thankful is just something the holiday demands. Guide them in being thankful all year long.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Dr. Anderson will be in Atlanta, GA on December 10 and 11, speaking at the National Head Start Association’s Parent Conference. Email her at [email protected] for details or to set up a presentation to your group in the Atlanta area on one of those dates.

Have your kids learned how to write thank you notes yet? No? I’m sure they’re not alone. But writing thank you notes is a good idea for a lot of reasons:
• It helps the child make a connection between the gift and the giver
• It helps the child learn a social nicety and be a better member of the community
• It helps the child apply skills in writing and handwriting

So the effort you must go through to force your children to write thank you notes is well worth it. No one says this is easy. Everyone says it’s good.

The thing is, writing an acceptable thank you note is very, very easy. There are just three sentences needed:

Sentence One:
Includes the words Thank You, the giver’s name and the gift with an adjective.
“Dear Grandma, Thank you for the great puzzle.”

Sentence Two:
Says something about how the gift will be used or a feature that makes it special
“I really like the picture it makes with all the animals.”

Sentence Three:
Makes a wish for the giver’s happiness.
“I hope you had a good holiday too!”

The only thing needed to round this out is the child’s signature. Tack that on and slide the note into an envelope. Done!

Of course, a thank you can be longer. It can go into greater detail. But the focus should be on the giver, the giver’s happiness and the giver’s gift.

A good thank you can be dictated and then personally signed. It can be written by hand or typed on computer. It can include a picture or a photo. It can be delivered by email or letter, though an email should be composed offline first.

But a good thank you cannot be a form letter. While it follows a formula, it shouldn’t seem like it could be sent to any giver about any gift.

Naturally, the child can just say this in a phone call. That works, sort of. And if the giver was present when the gift was opened, and the child said “thank you” at the time, then no thank you note is needed. But you can see the advantages of actually writing thank you notes. If your child hasn’t written hers yet, then make that something you and she do today.

How to get kids to make their thank yous?
1. Do this before the newness wears off. Today is a good day.
2. Make this a morning’s project and get them all done at once. Don’t let writing thank yous linger on and on and on.
3. Get some cute notecards that will make the writing fun. If you don’t trust your child to do a neat enough job of writing on fancy notecards, write the note on plain paper and stick it on to the notecard with a gluestick.
4. Reward completion. Celebrate mailing off the thank you notes with a trip to the park or something else fun.
Unless your child is older and can print legibly, you should address the envelopes yourself.

Help your children write their thank you notes. They will feel grown up and pleased with themselves. They will practice valuable writing skills. And they (and you) will delight the givers.

Thank yous all round!

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.