How to raise a thankful child

Thankful children

My Menurky is ready.  The unique menorah, shaped like a turkey, will be part of this year’s Hanukkah and Thanksgiving “crossover event.” This year, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlap and it will not happen again for 75,000 years!

Given the unique nature of the day, I started to wonder about how to celebrate both. There is the obvious: latkes and a Butterball turkey; Matzo ball soup and stuffing. But how can we celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah with the idea of thankfulness inherent in Thanksgiving?

The holiday season is a perfect time for parents to teach the quality of gratitude to their children. This lesson can begin early. Children model the important adults in their lives. Gratitude, empathy and the recognition of the miracles around us do not come automatically. These take time to develop and we, as adults, need to do things to encourage these traits and show our children how we express them.

 In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and all of the other celebrations, there are a few ways to help children understand the concepts of thankfulness during the holidays and to recognize the small miracles that surround us.

Be a role model

Model thankfulness to children by using good manners and language and by asking other adults in children’s lives to do the same. Model gratitude year ‘round whether it is to say, “thank you” to someone who has held open a door for you or the waitperson at the restaurant or even at the drive-thru window.

Give praise when deserved

Praise children when they show thankfulness. Don’t force saying thank you or expressing gratitude. Children shouldn’t express gratitude because of fear of punishment or having something taking away. Look for opportunities. A simple praise such as, “I really like it when you use your manners,” after they do so, increases the chance they will use good manners again.

Encourage children to help others

Explain to children what you are doing when you contribute to a charity, collect food for the food-bank or perform other acts of giving. With your children, encourage their collection of gently used toys that are no longer used or clothes that are outgrown. Explain to your children the needs of others. Encourage older children to volunteer to help those in need. Together, take items to donation sites or as a family volunteer in your community. There are many opportunities for such activities like volunteering at homeless shelters, faith-based or community activities or animal shelters. Even when we are in need ourselves, if we can find a simple way to also help others, we actually increase our own resilience.

Take stock throughout the year

It is not only at holiday times that we can make a difference or see acts for which we can be thankful. We often use special occasions to let others know how special they are to us. Be thankful for friends and family throughout the year. Share this, don’t wait.

Cultivate the spiritual life

Spiritual activities help to remind us of the miracles in our lives. It is also a time to share our values, beliefs, and ideals with our children. How do you want them to view the world around them? Again, our words and our deeds reinforce the beliefs our children develop.

Notice the miracles around us

They may not be as noticeable as those that surround the stories of the holidays, but they are there nonetheless. They are present when we take a walk with family and notice nature all around us. They are present in the first steps of a young child, the unconditional love of family for each other and even when our teenagers clean their rooms without being asked.

So, as I prepare my Hanukkah/Thanksgiving meal and get ready to light my menurky, I look forward to laughing with friends and family, remembering those who have touched our lives, and being ever grateful, as one of the Hanukkah blessings says, to have reached this holiday season.


Dr. Gurwitch first published “How to raise a thankful child?” on the blog for Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center. It is republished here with their permission.

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