It's easier for children to express gratitude if you show them how to do it — so go first when it's time for the "I'm thankful for..." discussion. "Share something you're grateful for today, and then something that happened a long time ago," Cooper says. "Not only do you promote the practice of giving thanks, you tell an interesting story of the past, which grandkids love to hear." Learning family lore — such as anecdotes about their parents as children — helps kids feel part of a rich, ongoing family story. "The stories help anchor grandkids into a world larger than themselves, a kind of antidote to the self-focus our culture promotes."
2. Stand Tall
When Carol White, 61, a grandmother of nine in Wilsonville, Ore., and her family go around the table sharing their blessings, she asks each speaker to rise. "Standing shows respect, and it helps you project your voice," says White, the co-author of Live Your Road Trip Dream (RLI Press, 2008). "The first time, it is difficult, but as the years go on, kids become more comfortable standing up and saying something meaningful." White's family loved her take on the tradition so much, they started including similar rituals in other holiday celebrations; on July 4, for example, they have asked, "What does the Fourth mean to you?"
3. Add a Ritual
You don't need to be at the dinner table to talk about thankfulness. Sue Johnson, 68, a grandmother of five in Lancaster, Va., and coauthor of Grandloving: Making Memories with your Grandchildren (Heartstrings, 2003) started a tradition of giving thanks before sitting down. Her family gathers before the meal in her kitchen, around the turkey, with each person holding a small candle. "One by one, we light the candle from the previous person and say something we’re grateful for," she says, and the candlelight makes the moment feel more meaningful: "When the children are old enough to hold the candle with adult supervision — usually around 4 — it’s really special to them."
4. Record the Cute Stuff
As the discussion moves around the table, the youngest children may come up with comments that are touching, insightful, or just hysterical, whether they're thankful for pumpkin pie, the family dog, or the number six. But it's easy to forget their adorable remarks from year to year. So try keeping a Thanksgiving Journal that you update each year. As the years pass, you'll see the enormous differences in the seriousness of the kids' thoughts. In fact, after children offer their thanks each year, you can refer to the journal and share with them the comments they made when they were little, to spark further discussion.
5. Make Thankfulness Scrolls
Sue Johnson's family writes "Thankfulness Scrolls" each Thanksgiving. "They start out with the words, 'You make me happy when you...'" Johnson explains. "You can do one for each person, or draw names [at random] so that each person makes and receives one scroll." Family members exchange the scrolls after dinner, guaranteeing lots of smiles during dessert, and warm memories to last until the next November.