Gratitude & Giving Back: Help Your Child Take the Next Step to Build Social and Emotional Skills

The “season of giving” can mean far more than a friendly gift exchange or a donation to a favorite nonprofit. Giving often springs from feelings of gratitude toward someone in your life. When those feelings are personal and heartfelt, it can feel great to pinpoint the reasons for the gratitude and then find a way to give back. This is what we are focusing on this year at our house with my kids and with some of the students I support who struggle with social and emotional skills. I’m using a two-part project you can do with your child or student: the first step is to identify feelings of gratitude and the second is to take action to thank the person you feel grateful towards.

Step 1: Express What You’re Grateful For
Encourage your child to pinpoint the things and people they feel grateful for. Perhaps someone has been especially helpful or kind to them. It could be a friend, relative, teacher, coach, or even a pet. Or, it could be a special place, thing, or activity. Have your child list these things/people and explain why they’re grateful. If they have difficulty writing, have them dictate to you or draw out their thoughts. Photos can be used too.

Doing this exercise helps children focus on the positive things in their life and the people who support them. But taking it to the next level of giving back and showing people how you feel can bring an even more profound sense of connection and appreciation.

Step 2: Show Your Gratitude

Let’s say your child is feeling grateful toward his grandmother. Help to brainstorm ways to express this gratitude by doing something nice or helpful. Embrace that teachable moment and encourage your child to think about what that person likes to do and what they might need help with. For example, if Grandma is a gardener, she might appreciate help with weeding. My son wanted to thank his piano teacher, so he asked me to help him  make cookies for his teacher.. Be sure to come up with a way to give back that is realistic based on the child’s age and abilities.

Gratitude Worksheet & Coupon
Your child can use the worksheet to list or draw reasons for feeling grateful and the people who contribute to this feeling. Add to it whenever a new idea arises and leave it on your fridge or in another spot you see often.

The coupon is an IOU for the child to give to someone else. It’s a promise to do something in the future, like helping out in the garden, baking someone’s favorite cookies, giving the person a foot massage, or washing their car.

Filling out the worksheet and coupon and then doing the action listed on the coupon helps your child with planning and follow-through. Together, you and your child have identified a person to thank and mapped out a way to do that. This is especially helpful for children with social and behavioral challenges because it can give them a sense of empowerment and an opportunity to practice thinking of others (perspective taking). Doing this project is a great way to highlight gratitude and the positive things in your child’s life while also reinforcing how good it can feel to show appreciation and give back. And maybe that person will even pay it forward by doing the same for someone in their life!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like my article, Gratitude With A Tween Twist, which talks about how my son came up with  a way to reward his parents!  For hundreds of great activities and ideas for teachable moments  relating to social competence, please be sure to check out my book, Make Social Learning Stick.

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