By the time your child is in the Second Plane of Development, so many qualities of their personalities have emerged and focused. You know their quirks and their strengths, their sense of humor and their anxieties. It's a goofy, playful, loving, serious, earnest mix of yet-to-be-ness, and it's a great time to help your children build a practice of gratitude.
Children in the Second Plane are far more focused on their social groups and on issues of justice and fairness than they may have been earlier, so both the kind of external acts that demonstrate thankfulness and the internal reflection that gives them meaning are well-aligned. If you're aware of Montessori's Sensitive Periods, you might think of the Second Plane as a sensitive period to gratitude, when these practices are both uniquely attractive and likely to meet a deep need for your child. And because your child has developed enough abstract thinking to contribute to and remember in thoughtful ways conversations about big ideas like gratitude, this is a good time to regularly check in with your child about how their practice is developing. Here are some ideas- and each one is one you can do alongside your child:
1. Encourage your child to keep a gratitude journal: This might be a notebook in which they write three things at the end of each day for which they are grateful. Research shows us that regularly practices like this feed on themselves: the more you intentionally acknowledge the things for which you are grateful, the more things for which you are grateful you notice in your life. Every so often, sit down together to review the pages and talk about the things, big and small, that make your lives a little better.
2. Leave thank-you notes for your child, and encourage them to do so for others: A simple note left somewhere for your child to find can be a priceless gift to them, and can model for them that you don't have to wait for the big things to demonstrate your gratitude. "Thank you for caring about our pets. I know they feel loved when they are with you." or "Thank you for helping your sister with her shoelaces earlier." There are endless ways, often overlooked, in which we all care for each other in community each day. While you should acknowledge these things in the moment, written notes require more attention and can be received more earnestly.
3. Model sportsmanship: This is a time when children are increasingly interested in group games and in issues of social inclusion and exclusion. You can cheer your child on, but you should also encourage them to be grateful for the opportunity to play together. Avoid the kind of language that demeans players and, win or lose, take the time after the game to talk about what the team did to make sure everyone had a good time. You can create these opportunities by introducing a regular game night with your family, too. Take the games seriously, but also take advantage of the moments that arise to commend other players on their good strategy or to thank them afterward for a hard-played game.
4. Encourage thank-you notes. Real ones. A great thank you note is specific to the person who receives it. It reflects a genuine expression of thanks, and a reason why the writer is thankful. Finally, it offers a hint to the future, how the writer will make use of the gift for which they are thankful or how they will pay the kindness forward to another person. And while this time of year offers ample opportunity for thank-you notes to teachers, staff and other support folks, you can model writing thank-you notes for big events and for the small times in which someone else's support helped you along.
5. Unplug. Remember: true gratitude requires a connection to things outside ourselves. Make time for that connection by putting away your screens and your child's, going outdoors, getting engaged in service, walking around your neighborhood, talking in person, making eye contact... make time for each other in the present, to notice each other and to notice the wonder of the world you share.
Gratitude doesn't cost a thing, but its impact, on the people who experience it and the people who receive it, is invaluable. Protect it by investing in it, for you and for your child.