Katie Taylor headshot Certified Child Life Specialist and Piper + Enza contributor Katie Taylor shares some tips for practicing gratitude as a family, not only during Thanksgiving, but all year long—with a gratitude journal as a key component!

If I were to tell you that I could give you AND your children something that:

  • Increases happiness
  • Boosts optimism
  • Reduces anxiety and depression

that is not a medication and is completely free, would you want it?

My answer is a resounding, yes. yes, yes, yes!

Still not sure? It only takes 5 minutes a day and is something that only grows in impact over time. 

I’m talking about a gratitude journal. While it’s easy to think about what you’re grateful for during this season of Thanksgiving, science tells us that that practicing gratitude is worth your time all year long. However, practicing gratitude does require more than just “thinking” or “saying out loud” at the dinner table what you’re thankful for, despite the fact that gratitude is instinctual and develops in our brains as a young child.

American psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process: 1) recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome and 2) recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.

Here are a few tips to help you start practicing gratitude with your child:

Try it on your own first.

As is much with parenting, we model the behavior we want our children to demonstrate. I recommend starting a gratitude journal on your own first and see how it feels. Grab a pen, a journal or a piece of paper and practice writing 3 things you have gratitude for. Remember to include that it had a positive outcome and an external source associated with it. Here’s a personal example of mine of how simple this can be:

My husband went in late to work this morning, so I was able to have time on my own to fit in exercise instead of taking the kids to school (positive outcome). This happened because a surgical case was cancelled this morning at his clinic (external factor).

Show your kids what you’re doing and offer them pen and paper.

It may not feel easy at first, but if you continually show up for yourself and offer the space for your children, they are more likely to engage. A key factor is to allow them to choose to join you, not forcing them to join. 

Keep showing up.

The best things in life don’t come quickly, they take time. Gratitude journaling is a practice, not a moment in time. You will begin to feel the full effects once it’s been in practice for a while. Show your kids how you stay consistent in the practice and they will eventually join you. 

While a pen and pencil works, some kids may be more likely to engage if they have an opportunity to be creative. I recommend Gratitude Journal for Kids by Priscilla Morgan if you’re looking for a book to help get them started. 

Katie Taylor is certified child life specialist, podcast host and CEO + Founder Child Life On Call, and a Piper+Enza expert contributor.