Gratitude with a Tween Twist

In the realm of social-emotional learning, the tables have been turned at our house. My middle-schooler, Gabe, has come up with a way to reward his parents and get some of his own needs met at the same time. He accomplishes this with handy little pieces of paper he calls “Gabe bucks.”

Several months ago, Gabe started handing out these bucks when my husband or I did something that he considered helpful or kind. This might be helping him with chores, driving him to a friend’s house, or cooking a dinner he especially likes. The giving of these bucks was spontaneous and not discussed in advance. Once we were awarded the bucks, we could turn them in for things we might want from Gabe, like playing a game with him (cost: 1 Gabe buck), cuddling or mindfulness activities (5 Gabe bucks), or watching a tv show of the parent’s choice (10 Gabe bucks). My son charges a full 100 Gabe bucks for taking a 30-minute walk with one of his parents, something he’d really rather not do.

This system of rewards is Gabe’s own way of expressing gratitude, which isn’t always easy for him. And as he’s saying thanks (in his own way), he’s also getting to spend time with us, something I think he was wanting more of.

In my book Make Social Learning Stick!, I offer a template for gratitude coupons, another tool for encouraging kids to show appreciation and think about the good things in their lives. I have attached a sample worksheet here. Kids write (with support from parents if needed) what they’re grateful for and explain why. I like to post the gratitude sheet on the fridge so the whole family can see it, and other family members can add their thoughts and thanks too. The coupon at the bottom of the sheet (similar to a Gabe buck)  allows the child to offer a personal gift to someone else (perhaps a back rub, home-baked cookies, or dog-walking help). This activity is great for the month of November as we focus on Thanksgiving, but don’t stop there— it feels good to be thankful any time of the year!

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