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Giving Thanks: Building Grateful Children & Families

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By Caroline Schaefer

It can be a challenge to find things to be grateful for sometimes. Military life brings extra challenges, too. Families are continually stretched and must deal with separation from their loved ones. However, even in the difficulties, families can find gratitude and teach their children how to practice it.

Family spoke to military spouse Amber McClenny about how she builds gratitude in her children and her family. Amber and her husband, Travis McClenny, share two children—Cade (12) and Luna (6).

Why do you feel practicing gratitude is important?

I’m a pretty grateful individual, but I made practicing gratitude a part of my morning routine about a year ago. I was inspired to start the practice after I heard something on a podcast about how it only takes two minutes of negative thoughts to shift you into a negative mindset. And the best way to shift it out is to think positive thoughts, including finding reasons to be grateful.

I find ten things to be grateful for in my morning routine; they don’t have to be big things. It can be something small like a nice cup of coffee, the weather, time with friends, etc. Gratitude is a powerful motivator and can help change your perspective when you are having a hard time. My morning habit has helped me not be so grumpy and continues to remind me that I have many things to be grateful for.

How do you help build gratitude in your children?

We have taught our children to say, “thank you,” but that they are more than just words. When someone does something for you, whether expected or unexpected, showing gratitude to that person for doing something for us can brighten their day, too. Just the other evening, our oldest child, Cade, took his sister’s plate when she was finished eating dinner. She was so grateful and told him so. Both children have learned how helping others and showing gratitude can shape your day, whether it’s a note of encouragement, kind words spoken to a friend or a teacher, or drawing something for someone to show them how much they mean to you. Yes, they are acts of kindness, but they are also acts of gratitude.

Some other ways we show gratitude and kindness to our neighbors and friends is by making little Boo Bags for Halloween. It’s a bag filled with candies and such, and we leave them on their doorsteps. Plus, around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, we make simmering scent bags filled with items to put in a pan on the stove with some water and simmer to make your home smell like a cozy, welcoming atmosphere.

And one more thing we do that we have found to be very helpful is having our kids create age-appropriate, pre-made thank you cards. For our youngest, we have fill-in-the-blank areas. This really helps when they receive a gift or just want to send a handwritten note to someone. It’s come in very handy and always keeps gratitude in the forefront of their minds.

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