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Gratitude is the big buzz word this time of year. With all the focus on Thanksgiving and charity projects for the holidays, the blogosphere is flooded with articles about gratitude and giving back. But what happens once the holiday season is over?

I don’t know about you, but I hope to raise children that know that gratitude is something you have all the time, not just a few times a year. The holidays are a great time to jump start their gratitude journey. Here are 5 ways to cultivate their attitude for gratitude all year long.

1. Scouting & Service Clubs – I’m a big fan of scouting.  A huge focus of scouting is on teaching children community responsibility. They participate in many community service projects throughout the year. They also go on outings that show them how businesses run, learn about the electoral process (my daughter’s Girl Scout troop is holding Girl Scout elections next week), and help them take ownership over making their community a better place for everyone.

Scouting challenges them to figure out how they can make an impact on the world. As a kid, it might be easy to think that there is nothing they can do, but scouting really helps them see that anyone can make a difference. It encourages them to become leaders who care. A key to cultivating gratitude is making kids responsible for their world.

It doesn’t have to be scouting, any club whose focus is on community service will create the same feeling of ownership. Key club is one example. Key Club is an organization for high school students sponsored by Kiwanis International that aims to help the children of the world through community service projects.

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My kids like doing things for the community. One day last spring I mentioned to the kids that I noticed a lot of litter in our neighborhood and said we should pick it up. They kept reminding of my idea until one day we scoured the neighborhood for trash and picked it up. They actually enjoyed it.

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2. Daily Reminders – Every night I pray with my kids as a part of our nightly routine. I start by thanking God for the day (because I believe every day is a gift) and then I thank him for our many blessings. When my son can’t think of what to pray, I suggest he tell God one thing that he’s thankful for. That often spurs him to come up with several things he’s grateful for.

While it comes in the form of prayer in my house, you don’t have to be religious to start these daily talks with your kids about gratitude. You can make it a part of your daily dinner conversation or at bedtime. What’s important is that they get a fresh reminder every day about their many blessings including having a home, food, heat in the winter, and a family that loves them. It’s good for parents to participate too. We all need a reminder sometimes, especially when we’ve had a tough day.

3. Find Out What Drives Them – This time of year is filled with drives – coat drives, food drives and toys drives, so it’s a great time to get kids thinking about making donations and giving back. It takes some of the focus off of receiving gifts and puts it on giving. After all being able to give a gift actually is a gift in and of itself.

But don’t let the motivation to give die with the holidays. Keep it alive all year long. Find out what they really enjoy doing for the community and make a plan to do it regularly whether that’s once a week or once a month.

If they loved collecting non-perishable goods for a food drive, find a local food pantry to make regular donations too. If they loved donating toys to kids in need, find a local children’s charity that you can help throughout the year.

There are so many worthy causes, but we tend to give where our heart is and helping children find out what causes they are passionate about will set them up for a lifetime of giving and volunteering. The holidays are the perfect time of year to explore what fuels their compassion.

 4. Talk About Income Differences – Although my kids heard me talk about our family budget a lot, they didn’t often hear me talk about income disparities between families. That is, until the face of hunger came knocking at my door – literally. When a little girl in the neighborhood wasn’t getting enough food at home and was coming to our house for dinner, I knew I had to have a talk with my kids. It really helped them to understand that not everyone has their basic needs met all the time. It was a real eye-opener for them.

I think sometimes we want to protect our kids from feeling bad so we don’t talk about it. But I think it’s important to explain to them how different families have different income levels, especially before the kids discuss their presents with their friends at school after the holidays. You can’t cultivate lifelong gratitude if your kids think everyone has the same access to even basic needs.

We all forget how lucky we are sometimes. It’s normal to get caught up in the details of life and miss the bigger picture. The best way we can grow grateful kids is be grateful parents. The more we remind ourselves of our blessings, the more our kids will learn by watching us. One of the best lessons we can teach our kids is that no matter how much or little we have, there is always something to be grateful for.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Creating Children's Thank You Cards

I know I am one of the last few moms on the planet that fully insists her children send thank you cards. We send them after birthday parties, for the surprise gift and for holiday gifts from friends and family. And now we send them to our teachers at the end of the year.

Everyone likes to be thanked for their hard work. My kids are NOT easy humans to deal with. I totally get it. I don’t own enough cash to throw at the teachers and therapists that have worked with us over the years. I would gladly go broke letting them know how much we appreciate their hard work. Sadly, I am already broke so that leaves me with heart felt, handmade gifts.

Kissing hand cards

Every day when I drop my girls off at preschool they extend their tiny hands out and ask for, “a kissing hand mama?” If you have never read the book The Kissing Hand you have to add that to your list of back to school must haves! A little raccoon is afraid he will miss his mom too much while away at school, so she gives him a kiss to keep in the palm of his hand to let him know she is close by.

This year the teachers at our preschool have given their hearts away to my kids each day. They have loved my little ones as their own and beyond- especially on those really trying days where I wasn’t so sure I even liked them. I thought a kissing hand would be appropriate for my girls to leave behind for their teachers.

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This will make a lovely project to make on a rainy day, or a really hot day over the summer. Make a stack to keep on hand. Should there be an occasion calling for a thank you, let your little ones sign their names or write a word of thanks on the inside. Since the inside of the cards are blank you can really use them any time even if is simply “Thinking of You.”

I purchased a set of colorful blank note cards on clearance some time ago because I knew they are perfect for making our own cards! Start by laying out a group of cards, or blank pieces of paper. Place foam heart stickers in the middle of the card.

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Have your child select a favorite color of paint and simply paint their hand. Then have them press their hand over the heart so that the heart is in the center of their palm.

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That’s it! Let the paint dry and your kids can start practicing their note writing skills and pop those beautiful cards in the mail, or deliver them personally. Today is our last day of school and we can’t wait to hand these over!

Why send thank you cards?

The rule of thumb for thank you cards is that you send a note only if the gift giver is not present to thank. Most often birthday gifts are not opened during parties any more. They are saved and opened at home. We only started opening gifts this last year and my kids thanked everyone individually. I was off the hook for thank you notes!

We often receive little packages of gifts from neighbors on our front door. So I make sure my kids make and write their own thank you cards each time we receive a surprise gift.

Little kids don’t send a text message or a mass Facebook post with a blanket thank you. Having my girls write their own thank you notes helps them connect to and really appreciate the person that gave them their gifts.

I think it’s cute when I get a thank you card on personalized kid stationary, but making it homemade just makes it feel more personal and less mass produced.

Hand written notes and cards of thanks are a much warmer way to connect. My girls may not grow up to share my love of note writing, but for now I think it is a wonderful and simple way for them to practice gratitude.

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up to date with her creative ideas and outings on Pinterest. 

 

 

A few weeks ago some friends of mine organized a dinner drop off at a local fire station as a way to say thank you for all their hard work. Several families came out to deliver meals, cards and treats. I’ve shared before how my kids and I bring cookies to the fire station at Christmas. But our volunteer fire fighters will gladly accept your appreciation any time of the year!

How To Host A Meal Drop Off

How do you set up a meal night? Well, first you can easily reach out on Facebook, or email to your fire house and ask what is the best night to arrive. Most stations have a training night and you are guaranteed someone will be there to accept your donations. Pick a night and a time that works.

Next, decided if you would like to open it up to friends and family and ask them to bring a meal, or baked goods as well. You can keep track of what each person is bringing through an Facebook events page, email or good old fashioned pen and paper. Using an events page through Facebook allows everyone to coordinate food items. This way you don’t end up with 10 lasagnas. If you do don’t worry. Any extras can go directly into the freezer for later.

What To Make

You don’t have to make a meal from scratch. I didn’t have time to cook so I bought from the freezer section. I can buy things with love! Meals that feed a crowd are great, but you can also gather up snacks.

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I threw in a box of snacks they could serve any time during their meeting nights, or fighters can grab on a late night at the station. I was surprised by how many people commented on this box. I grabbed an empty box from the liquor store and wrapped it with gift wrap.  Then I taped a piece of paper with Thank You written on it and let the kids put some stickers on (who doesn’t have extra stickers lying around?). Then I filled the box with store bought snacks (cookies, pretzels, chips, popcorn, etc).

Treats

Unfortunately, the night we were to drop off our goodies was the night my kids came down with the flu. So, I drove over to the station and did a quick drop and run. We didn’t get to stay to thank the fighters personally. But the families attending were treated to a tour of the station and got to see the fighters in action with their gear and training facilities.

Why It’s Important To Say Thank You

Did you know 90% of fire fighters are not paid. That means they VOLUNTARILY run into a burning building to save people and animals. Imagine, actually doing this for free!? They spend hours upon hours running drills and training and learning to use life saving equipment.

You don’t have to limit your gratitude to fire fighters. Contact your local police department or ambulance station to coordinate a drop off. This is a great way for your children to become familiar with community helpers. Seeing a fire fighter in turn out gear, or an officer with a gun on their hip makes them seem less scary and more recognizable when they need help.

Have you thanked a community helper lately?

 

The Whatever Mom is a full-time wife and twin mama living on coffee and wine. She enjoys the pure rush of cleaning the BIG potty between loads of laundry. It is her dream that moms everywhere accept and embrace the Whatever Mom philosophy which can be found here. You can also find her musings and popular shares on Facebook and Twitter.

A Brief Reintroduction

You may have noticed that I’m no longer writing under the name Discount Diva because I decided to branch out and talk about parenting issues. I went with The No Drama Mama because that’s how I like my life; simple with the only beautiful chaos being caused by my three adorable kids.

I made a conscious effort to give the camera to my husband so I could get in on this photo with Hannah and Sydney meeting Santa at the Santa Express that visited South Fallsburg last night.

I’m not a “Santa Hater.” I took my kids to him. I just de-emphasize his role in the holidays. I want them to see Santa as someone who embodies the spirit of giving, not just someone who brings them presents.

Santa’s NOT The Reason For The Season

Before you get out your candy cane themed pitch forks and lynch me for this post, please hear me out and keep the message of Dr. Sueuss’ “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in mind. Parenting is all about deciding what you want to teach and emphasize in your kids’ lives. Here are four reasons I don’t overplay Santa’s role in the holidays:

 

1. It Detracts From Our Religious Celebration – If you’re like me and you’ve chosen to raise your kids with an understanding of God (whoever that may be to you) then sometimes Santa with his big ‘ol belly and bag full of toys can overshadow your religious celebrations. Sure it’s possible for the two to co-exist, but the allure of “Santa” has the advantage of his magical sleigh full of toys so I try to de-emphasize Santa’s role so my kids will remember that while they have Santa in their lives one day a year, they have God in their lives EVERY day.

2. Santa Promotes The Joy of Receiving Instead of Giving – Sure I want my kids to be excited on Christmas day, but I want them to be grateful and giving human beings EVERY day. I want them to think of helping and giving to others, which is why we participated in Operation Christmas Child and Angel Tree, which gives toys to children on behalf of their incarcerated parents. I hope to emphasize the “spirit of Santa” because we all have the power to be “Santa” for someone who needs a little joy.

 

3. Santa Can Create Comparisons – We live in a financially depressed area and even though my family does ok I know there are many families who are struggling. I would hate to have to explain why Santa gives some kids a new Xbox and others a book. I don’t mind teaching my kids how money works, but trying to rationalize why a magical Santa would show favoritism is not something I want to do.

4. I Want My Kids To Appreciate Us – I usually designate one small gift from Santa and the rest are from Mom and Dad. Why? I want them to appreciate the giver and not just the gift. We gave them the greatest gift of all – life. Top that Santa. I want my kids to look back at their childhood Christmases and remember how much we love them, not how many cool gifts they received. The bonus to our method is that it makes it easier to transition once our kids are too old to believe.

I think the holidays are a magical time of year because of the extraordinary caring and compassion people show each other, not because of Santa. I want my kids to know that Christmas can still carry on without him. In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss, “Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”

I had a totally different topic in mind this week. I really wanted to write about my nostalgia for toys that don’t suck. It’s true that toys these days are just not made to last, most don’t work well to begin with and barely get played with before they are forgotten. BUT then I remembered that this is my problem. If I don’t like the toy, I don’t have to buy it. Am I really doing my kids a favor by buying them all these toys to begin with?

I don’t consider my kids spoiled, but they certainly have a lion’s share of stuff. They get new toys for Christmas and their birthdays and that’s it. Yet they have so much stuff it’s taking over my house. Too often the thrill of opening the present outweighs the desire to possess and play with the toy. I realized that a post complaining about toys designed by manufacturers almost exclusively to piss parents off, while it would be hilarious it wouldn’t be helpful. What I want to teach my kids is gratitude, but it’s not a quick lesson, it’s a lifelong one and it all begins with me. It begins with MY attitude.

It doesn't take more than a simple shoebox filled with little treasures to change a child's life with Operation Christmas Child.

It doesn’t take more than a simple shoebox filled with little treasures to change a child’s life with Operation Christmas Child.

So I decided that along with our church, we would participate in Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan’s Purse. The idea is that you pack a shoebox with small toys and personal hygiene items for needy kids around the world. For some children these will be their very first presents. Can you imagine that? Never having once had the thrill of opening something that was just for you. I cannot imagine my children would be thrilled with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, and small toys from the dollar store, but there are children for whom these gifts are the very best treasures they could ask for. I took my kids to the dollar store and Hannah picked out items for a little girl – aged 5- 9 and Jay picked out items for a boy aged 5-9. They were told all about the program ahead of time and they were happy to help me. They knew going into the store that we were NOT shopping for ourselves. When we got home they helped pack the boxes.

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It’s a small step I think. They are very young and gratitude doesn’t come so easily at 5 and 7. We also took clothing and food donations to our school for their holiday drives. I’m all for lightening the load of my household for others. I know getting my kids involved in charity work is one of the best ways to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Every small step is one in a lifetime that they’ll take toward the people they will become. I want for my children to be kind, compassionate, grateful and humble. I want them to remember how truly blessed they are, but I realize now that it’s not enough to know you’re blessed, you have to be someone else’s blessing. I am far from a perfect mother, but I hope that one day my children will understand that they are my blessings.

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If you’re looking for more ideas on how you can volunteer with your children, check out The Whatever Mom’s Post – Charity Starts At Home- 7 Ways To Give Back With Little Ones In Tow.

Last Thursday as I’m urging my kids to eat breakfast so we can get Hannah dropped off to school early for her field trip, the complaining started. “I’m not hungry.” “I don’t like the smoothie you made me.” “How much do I have to eat?” So just as my frustration level was rising I said to my children, “Look I’m hearing a lot of complaining. Let’s show some gratitude. Tell me what you’re thankful for.” So then Hannah and Jay started saying that they are thankful for their loving family, mommy, daddy, sister and brother and baby sister on the way.” I was honestly shocked that something so simple completely turned the morning around.

I’ve often blogged about the benefits of changing your thinking both for your wallet and your well-being so I don’t know why it shocked me how easily this tactic worked for my kids, but I’ve decided to continue to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in my house for both my children and myself. Here are four things I vow to teach my kids so that they can appreciate their many blessings instead of chasing after material things.

1. Avoid Negative People – At the beginning of my pregnancy I joined Babycenter.com to talk to other women with due dates in July like me and instead of camaraderie what I found was a forum where women could be mean and say nasty things to one another in the safety of internet anonymity. Though I didn’t exchange nasty words myself, I felt myself being drawn in by it and when I realized that negativity is contagious and I was catching it from this site I vowed to stay off of it entirely. As a result, my mood is better and I no longer feel like I’m participating in something that leads other moms to feel bad about themselves. I think the same is true for kids. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh my son or daughter fell in with the wrong crowd.” Negativity and destructive behavior catches and spreads like wildfire, especially for kids. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, but that’s why I hope that by teaching my kids how to combat negativity with gratitude they’ll be better prepared to handle it throughout their lives.

2. Tell Me What Your Grateful For – I’ve often read about people keeping gratitude journals or just jotting things down that they are grateful for to improve their mood and focus on the important things in their lives. I think this is a great thing for kids to do as well. Even if you don’t write it down, just asking the question around the breakfast table or perhaps before heading out to the mall might be able to focus your children on what they already have and limit the complaining and the “I wants.”

3. Give To Others – Nothing focuses you on what you have more than giving to someone else. I want my kids to see me volunteering or helping my neighbors. I want them to see that no matter how much or how little you have, there is always something of yourself that you can give to others. By giving to others you take the emphasis off of your own wants. My family went to Long Island last year with Convoy of Hope, which primarily helps with disaster relief but does other community outreaches as well. We set up games for kids in an impoverished part of Long Island, gave away shoes and food, and in general just let them know that someone cares about them. While my kids had a great time as well, all the volunteers’ children were told to give our special guests the first turns with the games and bouncy houses. They didn’t seem to mind. I think it’s important to teach my children, that not everyone has the things that we so easily take for granted.

Convoy of Hope Photo 2
Taking a break while volunteering with Convoy of Hope
to say hi to my son Jayden.

4. Get In Touch With Nature – The other day my son said to me, “I’m thankful it’s a nice day out and we can hang the clothes outside to dry.” These moments are when you think, “YES, parenting win!” He found appreciation for what nature does for us and that to me is so beneficial. Though I admittedly have a brown thumb, my kids spent the weekend helping their Poppy weed and water his garden and picking fresh strawberries at a local farm. Not only does this give them an appreciation for nature, but it teaches them how much work really goes into growing our food and whenever we teach our children to work for what they want they truly appreciate it more. Technology is great, but it doesn’t spark their imagination like playing outside does. When I was a kid the only reason you were inside before sunset on a beautiful day was if you were on punishment. Today it saddens me that all the ways we have tried to replicate reality through technology have eroded real life experience for our kids. Not that technology doesn’t have its place, but if want our kids to truly tune in and connect with other people and the world around them we have to unplug and get them outside.

Apple Picking
Apple picking in the fall with our neighbors. I forgot
to bring my camera to our strawberry picking trip
yesterday. (L to R) My daughter Hannah, her best friend
Jordyn and my son Jayden.

How do you cultivate an attitude of gratitude for your children or yourself? Share your thoughts here.

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