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Thankful Tots:Creative ways to teach children to be thankful

How many times have you been in traffic and let someone turn in front of you? Did that person offer a thankful wave as they merged past? What about the kind stranger who held open the door to a store or restaurant? Did you remember to toss a quick 'thanks' as you walked by? With Halloween, the holidays begin. There are seven days of Kwanzaa, eight days of Chanukah, and 12 days of Christmas. If you're among the millions of adults about to dive into preparations for the season, remembering to demonstrate appreciation for thoughtful acts can be easy to overlook. Baking cookies, wrapping gifts and running extra errands on top of your regular routine makes stopping to thank the mail carrier feel more like an extra task than an act of kindness. Unfortunately, our children witness the actions that go unnoticed or without thanks. Taking the approach that thankfulness begins at home is the first step to instilling a thoughtful and thankful attitude in your kids. If they sense that demonstrating thanks is a priority at home, they'll be more likely to model that behavior at school, with friends, or to kind strangers. Start early with these suggestions…

What are the 10 days of Thanksgiving? • This year, why not incorporate a set of days during the holidays that teaches your family about kindness, compassion, and demonstrating thanks? Designate 10 days between Halloween and Thanksgiving as days of thanks. Whether it's “Thankful Thursdays" or alternating weekends, select days that your whole family can spend together.

• Appreciating one another's health, abilities and accomplishments is an excellent way to reflect on all the reasons to be thankful from the past year. You'll all get great ideas for your Turkey day grace and you'll be thankful for the time spent relaxing together during the busy season.

• Thankful time as a family presents a great opportunity to take family holiday photos, or watch family movies to further reiterate everything you are all thankful for. Pass around a bowl of popcorn, grapes or snack mix and with every handful say something nice to the person to your right. Play charades with a thankful theme. Any time spent together that stimulates a thankful state of mind will be beneficial to your family.

• Start a Turkey day diary. Purchase a notebook or journal for your family to pass around the weeks before Thanksgiving. Having each member take the time to jot down what they're thankful for gives each one of you a quiet time to reflect on the past year. Letting younger family members dictate their thoughts, and giving teens colored pens to add their personal flair add other elements to your family's 'Thankful Time Capsule'. Year after year, you all can add your thankful thoughts to the diary and recollect what you noted the year before.

• Have the entire family hand sign the holiday cards that you'll send to friends, neighbors and family. You'll show the card recipients that they are appreciated since you each took the time to sign the cards and add a personal note or a smiley face.

• Many parents take the time to notice the paper delivery person, mail carrier, hair stylist, and household assistants during the holidays. Involving your children in this act helps them appreciate all the subtle support and services they receive throughout the year. Enlisting your kids to help shop for gifts, bake cookies, or put together baskets of bread and spreads lets them know you're proud to show your respectful thanks. Your child will feel honored to deliver gifts he has helped to create, and will learn it is important to show thanks in many different settings.

Hearts aren't just for February. • Gather up your family and bake a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies. Decorating the cookies with fall-colored frosting, sprinkles, and the word 'Thanks' painted with frosting gel sends a thank you that's straight from the heart. Send the thank you cookie in wax paper bags adorned with your child's message of 'Thanks from the bottom of my heart' to coaches, teachers, bus drivers, and mentors. Reserve some cookies for your family to pass to one another to recognize acts of kindness among siblings.

• Trace your child's handprints (fingers pointed up and slanted) opposing each other on a piece of letter-sized paper. Their thumbs and index fingers form a heart in the middle of the page to write a thankful message to a teacher, such as, 'Thanks for helping me to read" or 'Your math class was the best.’ Add thankful words and phrases on each of the fingers to strengthen the heartfelt message.