A thankfulness chain

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*This is a crossover post from my other blog, Grateful Mom Project.*

One day is just not enough to show thankfulness and create an attitude of gratitude. To extend the pleasure and benefits of thankfulness, four years ago, we came up with a fun visual way to remember all the good things in our life: a thankfulness chain.

Each day from Halloween night to Thanksgiving Day, I ask my son what he is thankful for, and I write it on a strip of paper. He helps me glue it together, and we hang it in a prominent place in our house that we will all see multiple times a day. By the time Thanksgiving comes, we have a wonderfully long chain of the things he is grateful for in life.

The first year we started the tradition of the thankfulness chain, I counted the number of days between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving and Christmas and found out they were equal. So after we add to our chain each day from Halloween to Thanksgiving, we relive what he was thankful for, pulling apart one link in the chain and reading it each day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It ends up being a kind of thankfulness advent calendar and extends the attitude of gratitude, helping us keep in mind the real reason for Christmas.

Children who are new to thinking of things to be grateful for may need a little help. The first issue is memory. It is good for them to remember what they were able to do during the course of the day; aside from helping them decide what to be thankful for, remembering also improves executive function, which includes the higher-thinking skills in the frontal lobe that help a person excel at school and in life: memory, planning, organizing, prioritizing and more. To practice memory skills, an adult or older sibling may have to run through the highlights of the day with the child. Eventually, the child will get better at remembering what happened.

The next issue is deciding what they want to be thankful for. A child can be told that something they are thankful for should be something they are glad happened; something they are glad they have, like a warm house (I try to steer mine away from too many material objects); something they love to do; something they love to eat; people they are glad to know. It should also be emphasized that things to be thankful for are not just big things like having enough food to eat. The small things are worthy too, like good stories, finding a feather in the grass, or hearing a baby giggle.

In order to reap the benefits of gratitude, it should be kept separate from being indebted to someone, and there is no need to be grateful to anyone in particular; however, if you would like to cultivate in your child Christian values or a sense of where the things in their lives come from (we have a warm house because mommy/daddy works to earn money to pay for it), discuss it with him or her. Sometimes, even mentioning it is enough to plant a seed in a child’s mind–“Yes, I’m thankful that daddy he works so hard that he was able to take a day off and go with us to the apple orchard too”–or “Yes, we are blessed that God made sure that before the leaves fall off the trees, they change into pretty colors.”

To get started, I introduced the concept to my child, explaining that we have good lives, and it’s good for us to realize where all the little and big things come from that make up the life we know. And his eyes lit up knowing that when the process was done and all the links were gone, it would be Christmas.

I then took a stack of seven fall-colored construction paper pieces and folded each one into four sections, the long way. If your child is skilled enough, or to practice cutting skills (the same muscles he will need to be able to hold a pencil and write well), he can cut along the folds to make strips. Then children old enough can write their own thankful things in marker, preschoolers can copy or trace a word first written by an adult, or you can write it yourself.

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Next, for the first chain link, swipe a glue stick across one end and attach the other end to it to make a loop.

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For the second link and every link thereafter, first slide the strip through the last link, writing side away from you, swipe the end with the glue stick, and bring the two ends around to attach them outside the last link.

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This year’s first three links are done. My first-grader is thankful for our world, glow sticks, and our immediate family (my family that lives in our house). Now we challenge you to start yours today. Make sure you post some of the best ones here for us to read!

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