The Thankful Tree

There’s something about November that always feels just right.  Maybe it’s that last bit of calm before the busiest part of the holiday season.  Maybe it’s the crisp, cool air brushing against my cheeks during a morning walk with the kids.  Or maybe it’s that steaming mug of spiced cider by the fire, a well-worn book in hand…

November always speaks to me.

November reminds me to slow down, think about what I have, and be thankful for everything before me…right this very minute.

This November I’m holding my family close.  In the aftermath of the hurricane, I feel just a little bit helpless.  Watching the storm from afar was no easy task, especially as it threatened to wreak havoc on my little beach town on the Connecticut coast.  I grew up there.  I found my way there.  I return there each summer to find my center and reconnect with my roots.  Part of my heart will always belong there.

The images of the surge as the storm approached were almost too much to bear, but I found that I couldn’t tear myself away.  I couldn’t cope with the fact that my safe place, my mother’s home, might face complete devastation.  In the end, the damage was significant, but nothing, not even remotely close, compared to the complete and utter devastation in parts of New York and New Jersey.  My little town will face a large clean up, but those people?  They lost everything.  Every little thing.  And the people who say things like, “it’s just stuff”?  Clearly have never lost everything.

So this November, I’m focusing solely on gratitude.  I’m donating every little bit that I can to help rebuild some lives, and I’m holding my family just a little bit closer.  Because nothing, nothing at all, should be taken for granted.

It’s a lesson that I always make an effort to impart to my kids.  If you have more, even more than just one person, then you should help.  If you can, you should make efforts to improve the lives of others.  We can and we do.  And this season, our efforts will be focused on the East coast.

The other lesson that my children hear each day? We should always be grateful for what we have, particularly the love that we are given.

Last year we made a Thankful Tree.

We each added one leaf to the tree each morning…each leaf represented something for which we were thankful.  Many of them said things like, “family”, “Mommy and Daddy”, “Mimi”, and friends.  Others represented favorite loveys and toys.  The kids loved the tree so much that we never took it down.  They visit it almost daily, and still add to it.

When I announced that I would take down the existing leaves to make room for new thankful leaves, they froze.  It seemed to upset them.  After a few moments of silent panic, Riley finally spoke up:  “But I really want to keep the one that I made about our family.  I’m always thankful for our family.”  So that leaf remains in place…because family is the only thing that matters (and, yes, many of our nearest and dearest friends are most certainly considered family.  You know who you are.)

But new leaves are ready to find their branches on our beautiful thankful tree, because there is always a reason to give thanks.

Gratitude happens all year long.  There is no reason to focus our efforts in being thankful on the month of November.

But there’s something about November…

So get out your construction paper and make your Thankful Tree…your kids will thank you for it.

Please consider making a donation to the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army to help the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.  They have a long recovery ahead, and every little bit counts.


Lessons in Gratitude

It always amazes me how much happiness children gain from everyday moments.  It truly is the little things that bring the biggest smiles to their faces.

And yet, gratitude can be hard to teach.

Kids, by design, are impulsive.  They are constantly learning and changing, and new ideas seem to pop up by the minute.

They are exposed to advertising just about everywhere…even if you do rely on the DVR or DVD’s.

They hear about new exciting adventures and toys from their friends and they just have to have them.  Right…now!  And for a minute, they love that item or adventure…until the next big thing comes along.

It’s exhausting, really.

Showing gratitude every minute of every day just isn’t part of what kids do.  It’s not that they don’t appreciate what they have and who they are, it’s just that they are always learning and processing and soaking up information.

It’s our job to slow them down and teach them to be thankful for what they have.  It’s our job to capitalize on the small moments and help our kids stay grounded.  It’s our job to model the gratitude that we want our kids to demonstrate each day.

Nagging won’t do the trick; that will just send them running.

Below are some tips to help you teach lessons in gratitude:

1.    The Happiness Jar:  When kids become bored, frustrated, or feel like they don’t have what they really need in life, it can be useful to stop and think about what they do have.  What you need:  A large glass jar and a stack of index cards.  In a moment of calm, ask your kids to name the things that make them feel happy.  Write one happy statement on each index card and place them in a large glass jar.  Place the jar in a prominent place and reach in and grab a happy statement when life starts to feel overwhelming or unfair.  Talk about why that makes everyone happy.  It might be playing cars, walks on the beach, or chasing butterflies that makes your children happy on any given day.  Sometimes they just need a gentle reminder that they can do any of these things.  For that, they can be thankful.

2.    Three Good Things:  Bedtime is a great time to decompress and check in with your kids.  It’s also a great time to talk about gratitude.  Ask your child to identify three good things in her life as she goes to sleep.  Keep a journal by her bed so that you can write them down and revisit them during the day.  You will probably find that family, mommy & daddy, and favorite toys make the list often.  Many kids tend to think about these things as they end the day.  Having them verbalize it shows them that it feels good to go to sleep feeling happy and thankful.

3.    Collect Coins:  It’s no secret that kids love coins.  They like to play with them, hoard them, fill their banks with them, and throw them in fountains.  Create a special coin collection jar.  Have your kids put a few coins in the jar each week.  When the jar is full, talk about local charities where they can donate the coins.  Better yet, find a fountain that donates the coins to a local food bank or some other charity and make it a fun outing.  Be sure to explain where they money goes and how it helps other people.  Kids (even toddlers) take great pride in helping others.

4.    Pick a Stick:  Do you ever feel like your kids are constantly looking for something to do despite shelves of books and toys?  It can be tempting to start listing the things they should be grateful for, but this doesn’t actually teach a lesson.  Sometimes kids just need visuals.  Make a list of fun family activities and toys and games the kids have at their disposal.  Make use of those extra craft sticks by writing one activity on the end of each stick.  Flip the sticks over and ask your child to pick one.  Flip the stick back over to see what activity the family should do next!  Sometimes a simple game to make things fun reminds our children that wonderful things are all around us.

5.    Small Moments Photo Book:  I love to take pictures of our fun little moments each day.  When I flip through the pictures at the end of the day, I always feel incredibly grateful for what I have.  Why not give our kids the same experience?  Give your child the iPhone camera (or another camera) and let her document what makes her happy each day.  Compile the pictures into simple photo books so that she can look back and feel grateful too.  Warning:  You might end up with 11 pictures of Easter chicks and 37 pictures of a “rock museum”.

How do you teach gratitude in your home?


Appreciating the Little Things

“It’s only mid-December, but parents everywhere are experiencing the same the parenting challenge:  Lack of gratitude.  I’m hearing it through email, Twitter, Facebook, and just about everywhere I go.  Moms everywhere are reminding their kids to “put it on the list” or “wait and see what Santa brings”.  All. Day. Long.

The underlying fear, of course, is that we are raising kids who lack gratitude.  We are raising wanters instead of givers.  We are raising takers instead of sharers…”

Stop by Mommy Moment to read more about focusing on gratitude and the magic of the holiday season.