THE BLOG
06/29/2014 03:43 EDT | Updated 08/28/2014 05:59 EDT

Helping Kids Build the "Gratitude Muscle" on Canada Day

High school students with high levels of gratitude reported having stronger marks, less depression and envy, and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens. But gratitude is like a muscle -- it needs regular exercise.

There are concrete blessings for kids who learn to count their blessings, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. In one study, high school students with high levels of gratitude reported having stronger marks, less depression and envy, and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens.

But gratitude is like a muscle -- it needs regular exercise. You have to use it often if you want to see the benefits. I see gratitude positively oozing from the kids in our church youth group after we've spent an evening learning about the struggles facing impoverished children. But a few weeks later, many have reverted to focusing on what's missing from their lives here in Canada.

Canada Day is a great opportunity to nurture gratitude in our teens and younger children. As we prepare to celebrate with parades, fireworks and barbecues, we can also explore with our kids the many reasons why it's great to live in Canada.

Here are seven ways to help your kids build the gratitude muscle on Canada Day:

  1. Compare notes: Spend some time with a friend, acquaintance or neighbour who has immigrated to Canada. Encourage your kids to ask questions about life elsewhere. How is life different for kids here?
  2. Dollar a day: Brainstorm over a meal about how living on a dollar a day would look. What would have to come off the dinner table to make the budget? What else would have had to go that day?
  3. Identify enemies: Challenge your kids to list all the messages they receive that make them want something they don't have. These may include billboards, websites, commercials, movies, or even just thoughts about things their friends have. See who can list the most!
  4. Fill a school backpack: Choose things like a school book, a library card, a bus ticket and a bottle of clean water. Unpack the items one by one with your kids. Does a poor child overseas have this? Why or why not? What does not having it mean for them?
  5. Watch the news: Watch the news together. Have each family member recall a story that makes them feel grateful to live in Canada. Point out stories such as the war in Syria, food shortages in Africa, or child slavery.
  6. Pick a kids' issue: Look together at a web site exploring a challenge affecting young people, like World Vision Canada's No Child for Sale site, or War Child Canada.
  7. Start a tradition: Make an online donation to an organization helping children overseas, as a symbol of your family's gratitude for life in Canada. Plan to do this every year.

As you do these things with your children, you'll likely feel yourself growing in gratitude too. Instead of the too-small backyard with imperfect grass and a rusting barbecue, you have your very own space, enough rain to make things grow, fuel for your cooking and food to put on the grill. And, hopefully, some friends or family to come share a Canada Day meal.

Wonderfully freeing, isn't it? Just imagine what it can do for your kids.

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