Does your child express gratitude often? Being thankful and appreciative can alter your child’s perception of the world, their family and themselves. One study found that 12-year-olds who were asked to express gratitude on a regular basis were more likely to be optimistic, feel satisfied with their lives and have positive experiences at school.
Gratitude is a learned behaviour—preschoolers aren’t born knowing that they should appreciate generosity and thank people for gifts—but it can be taught early and often. Research has shown that children as young as five can feel warmth and appreciation toward someone who has done something kind for them, especially if they’ve been in touch with their emotions from an earlier age.
Help your child nurture both their grateful side and their creative streak with the following art projects, which are intended to help children express gratitude while having fun.
1. “Lucky me!” jars
Many adults keep gratitude journals to enhance their grateful feelings over time. Kids can design and fill a gratitude jar and glean similar effects. Decorate a container with photos of things they’re grateful for (their puppy, their family or last summer’s vacation). Cut colourful craft paper into small squares, punch a hole in the stack of notes and string the papers through one end of a decorative ribbon, which can be used to tie around the jar. Each evening, the child can slide a slip of paper out of the ribbon and write down (or dictate what you should write down) something they’re grateful for that day, then fold it and toss it into the jar. They’ll amass a collection of happy memories that they can pull out and read (or have you read) whenever they need a lift.
2. “Silver lining” posters
Things won’t always go your child’s way: Your kid’s soccer team may lose, or it may rain when you plan to swim with friends. But if you train your child to find the silver lining in any situation, it can help them realize that, even when things are bad, good exists. For this project, brainstorm first. Maybe your daughter lost the soccer game, but she became friends with a new teammate. Maybe the pool was closed, but the last-minute trip to the museum ended with ice cream. The silver lining should be the theme of your child’s poster. After they’re done painting or drawing, pull out your silver glitter glue so that they can literally add a silver lining to the picture, either with a hopeful phrase or whimsical design. Identifying silver linings in disappointing situations doesn’t just teach kids how to be more grateful but also shows them how to see situations from different perspectives and think more creatively.
3. Stealthy deliveries
Think of Secret Santa with a twist: Your child can sneak over to thank someone local for their kindness with a tangible gift. Have them draw a picture, design a craft or help you bake cookies and then dress up the present with a bow or wrapping paper. Next, design a card together with a “secret” theme, as in “It’s no secret: I’m grateful for you!” Have your child sign their name and explain why they’re thankful so that the recipient will understand the reason for the surprise. Have your child leave the present by the person’s front door, ring the bell and run away (you can alert the person that you’re coming so they won’t be alarmed). Your child will enjoy making a stealthy delivery, especially if you run away with them.
4. Thankful collages
What is your child most grateful for? You can talk about the many positives in their life while you gather images of the things they’re most thankful for (friends, a favourite blanket, trips to the playground with Grandma). Have them design a collage that displays everything they appreciate most and display the completed work of art in their bedroom or on the refrigerator—somewhere they’ll see it often and be reminded about all of the wonderful things that surround them.
5. Un-birthday cards
The Mad Hatter and March Hare were definitely onto something by celebrating “un-birthdays” in Alice in Wonderland. Birthdays only come once a year, so what fun is that? If your child enjoys making homemade cards for friends and family, encourage them to send greetings all year long to celebrate kind gestures and commemorate special occasions. Why should they save their expressions of love and gratitude for birthdays only when un-birthday occasions, like a special movie night with cousins or a trip to the ballpark with Grandpa, deserve recognition, too? It will be a win-win endeavour: Research has shown that writing thank-you notes boosts happiness.
6. Homemade coupons
In today’s iPad-centric society, “things” often trump experiences for children. But research has shown that both children and adults get more pleasure and life satisfaction from positive experiences than possessions. When it’s time to give gifts (birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, holidays), help your child brainstorm and design coupons to give to family members that would shift the family’s focus away from material possessions and toward shared experiences (such as a coupon for a game of tag for a sibling or a trip to the garden centre to help pick out annuals for Mom).
7. Thank-you photos
Does your kid ever sleep over at their grandparents’ house? Help your child thank their hosts (or anyone who has done something nice for them lately). Have them draw a “thank you” poster and hold it up for the camera while smiling adorably. You can snap a photo of your child holding their sign proudly and text it to your parents or in-laws—it will make their day! This activity is perfect for children who are too young to write thank-you notes, and you can do this for any special occasion that deserves recognition.