Each night after her teeth are brushed and her pajamas are on, my 5-year-old daughter and I snuggle up and read a chapter of a book she loves (right now, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) and I sing her a song. Then I ask her, "What was your favorite part of today?" Sharing favorite parts of the day is one way that I remind my daughter to appreciate what she has.
Identifying the most joyful and special moments of each day has helped my daughter develop gratitude for her belongings, her experiences, and the people in her life. I ask her to focus on the best part of the day instead of what she is thankful for so that she thinks about how every fun moment is cause for gratefulness. It isn't that I don't encourage direct expressions of gratitude — I do. But, I've noticed that when I ask her to tell me what she liked best about the day, her thankfulness arises organically. She better appreciates those moments when I don't directly ask her to think of them.
For example, if I simply prompt her to tell me something she is grateful for, my daughter is often be stumped. She might tell me she is thankful for me, "because I love you!" or that she appreciates her guardian angel, who she has named Gloria, "because I love her!"
There is nothing wrong with any of this (in fact, it's very sweet!), but when I ask her to tell me about her favorite part of the day, she tells me that she loved roller skating or doing her connect-the-dots book. When she says this, I hear how much she appreciates the skates from her grandmother and the activity book I snagged at Target. Then, we can talk about the value of kind acts. Or, she tells me that she enjoyed playing with her friends at the park after school or that she liked having a picnic at the beach, and I hear how lucky she feels to live somewhere where nature is steps away and the weather is almost always perfect, which gives us the opportunity to discuss the value of connection and the outdoors.
I realized that remembering the "best parts" of the day is a better way to bring my daughter's attention to what she is truly grateful for, not what she thinks she should say. Her answers are always more concrete and I can tell that she really means what she says, every time. Recalling the day's highs lets her think about what made her happy, and that in turn draws her attention to what she genuinely feels thankful for. And that authentic gratitude is what I want to foster, because it'll stick with her long after our bedtime stories do.