Promoting Thanksgiving with your Children

ThanksgivingWhat is the meaning of Thanksgiving? Turkey and pumpkin pie? Cranky relatives? A day off school? A day to play video games? Football? Black Friday? Only 1 month till Christmas?


These thoughts were not in the original intent of the holiday. The story of the first Thanksgiving is one of blessings after loss, survival through adversity and friendship, yet the story is often not taught in our schools any more. In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated a plentiful harvest after a year of scarcity by giving thanks to God and sharing in food and recreation with the Native American people who had helped them survive. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777. In 1789 President George Washington declared Thanksgiving “was a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” It was not until 1941; however, that Congress officially declared Thanksgiving to be a National Holiday celebrated the fourth Thursday in November.


In our fast paced and commercialized lives, we are often caught up in rushing through our days and thinking of the next big event. We often forget to reflect on the true meaning of our life experiences and the opportunities we have to teach our children valuable life lessons. Thanksgiving is a opportunity for us to recognize and teach our children the importance of being thankful and giving thanks.


The true meaning of Thanksgiving extends beyond gratitude for our blessings. It is recognition of survival of our disappointments that sweeten blessings. It is also a model for positive thinking which is about choosing to focus on the positive vs. the negative. Studies show people who are grateful report higher levels of happiness and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.


Gratefulness is not an inborn trait; it is a learned behavior. By learning gratitude, we become more polite and pleasant ourselves. Additionally, we become more aware and sensitive to others.


Tips to Begin your Journey to Gratitude and to Teach the True Meaning of Thanksgiving to your Children:


  1. Read stories which tell the story of the origins of the first Thanksgiving holiday. 
  2. Use the Thanksgiving Celebration to launch a daily discussion in which you share what you are thankful for and invite your children to tell what they are grateful for. Include in your discussion gratefulness for triumph over adversity and disappointments.   
  3. Teach your children about helping hands. Challenge yourself and your children to commit to an act of kindness towards others daily.   
  4. Teach your children to write thank you notes not only for material possessions but when others show them kindness.   
  5. Model gratitude. Thank people in your life, including your child, for doing good things and showing kindness.   
  6. Teach your child to focus on what they have, not what they don’t have. Teach your children an awareness that there are always others who are less fortunate.    
  7. Teach your children about “No.” If we always get what we want when we want, it is hard to appreciate receiving.  
  8. Use this Thanksgiving holiday to extend the meaning of Thanksgiving from a one day celebration of stuffing yourself with turkey and pumpkin pie to embracing the true meaning of gratitude and a daily celebration of Thanksgiving.

(This post was originally written for our Parent Newsletter in 2013 by one of our former therapists.)   

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