Laurie David, Susan Stiffelman on Helping Kids Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

the family dinner book picture

Does your family have an attitude of gratitude? Credit: Amazon

We think of Thanksgiving as an event that happens once a year: A meal, a football game, a family reunion. Some of us look forward to it, if only for the gravy and stuffing, and others dread it, wondering what drama is going to unfold this year.

But there's a moment -- or at least an opportunity for one -- when we take our seats and pause to give thanks. Laurie David, author of "The Family Dinner," and Susan Stiffelman, ParentDish's AdviceMama, recently had a conversation about gratitude. An edited version of their conversation follows.

Susan Stiffelman: Laurie, don't you think that right before we dig in to the yummy food, there's an opportunity to capture the essence of what Thanksgiving is about -- feeling thankful?
Laurie David:
Absolutely. Whether you approach it religiously or spiritually, the expression of gratitude is the most important part of the gathering. But giving thanks shouldn't be a once-a-year activity. Appreciation is a muscle and it needs exercise -- consistent, daily workouts -- so it becomes an attitude we embody day in and day out. I have a friend who has a weekly appointment with gratitude with her kids at Friday night dinner. Because her children know that conversation is coming, they spend all week "collecting" their gratitudes.

SS: I encourage parents to create a nightly ritual, sort of what your friend does every Friday, where everyone in the family talks about three good things that happened in their day, so they start getting in the habit of looking for what's great instead of what's wrong. How do you use the dinner table to foster that attitude of gratitude?
LD: Family dinner is the perfect place because there is something right in front of you to be very thankful for ... the food! Not to mention the loved ones sitting to your right and left! I like this game: Look at everything on your dinner table and see how many people can be thanked for making it happen, starting with the farmer who planted the seed that became the tree which bore the apple that became the pie ... all the way to mom or dad who put away the groceries and then took them out and started chopping and marinating when it was time to start cooking! Or play "What I Like About You," where everyone tells the person to their right something they like about them.

SS: I love those ideas. Focusing on little things, like the person who held the elevator door for you at work or the friend that loaned you the pencil, can also help develop a more positive outlook, and shift attention from the things our kids don't like. Any other ideas you've tested with your own kids?
Here's another thing we do at our table. One of the best ways to appreciate things is to understand the work that goes into making something happen. Reassign jobs. Have your kids do the shopping one day. Give them a budget and let them check prices, compare items and shop for dinner! Another night you can let them cook while you do the cleaning up. Job swapping can really get those gratitude juices flowing!

SS: Great! I'm hoping that those reading this will come up with their own ideas for helping their families get into the attitude of gratitude and share them with us!

For more ideas, check out, and!


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.