Posted Nov 23, 2021
We hope the holidays will bring a sense of comfort, joy and gratitude. That isn’t always the case. The last two years have taken a toll on all of us. Uncertain times and a constant barrage of bad news can lead us to a very pessimistic place. Fortunately, there is an anecdote to that. While we can’t control what happens in the world, we can retrain our brains to find the positive and be thankful everyday, not just during special holidays. Research has shown practicing gratitude has significant health benefits – both mentally and physically. People who engage in gratitude practices are more satisfied with their relationships and jobs, report lower stress levels, and have a greater sense of joy and connection. They also experience better cardiovascular health, less inflammation and pain and better sleep. These benefits can also be seen in teens who feel a sense of gratitude. Those teens are also more engaged in school and hobbies and have stronger social supports.
So how do we start fostering that mindset in younger children who are developmentally more egocentric and concrete thinkers? How do we get young children to go beyond the rote response of “Thank You” to living with a sense of gratitude in actions and outlook? How do we make Thanksgiving away of life instead of one day in November?
Experts offer these tips –
SET AN EXAMPLE – Show appreciation to others for the positive things they do – including your own children. Talk about how those actions helped you or made you feel better. Point out kindness when you see it.
NAME IT – Use the words “grateful” and “thankful” throughout the day. Explain that being grateful is noticing the things that make you feel good.
LET THEM EARN IT - Having children work for what they want rather than giving it to them increases their appreciation and develops a sense of self-worth.
WIDEN THEIR HORIZONS – Showing them that not everyone has what they have increases a sense of gratitude and compassion and diminishes a sense of entitlement. It is important to present misfortune in a way that is developmentally appropriate to the age of the child so it isn’t overwhelming.
LET THEM BE THE ‘HELPERS” – Providing opportunities to help others at home and in the community. Donating unused toys, choosing food for the local food drive, picking up litter, visiting with an elderly isolated neighbor are all activities even preschoolers can be a part of.
SEND THANK YOU NOTES – Acknowledge the kindness and generosity of others. Taking the time to write out and deliver that message strengthens the feelings of gratitude.
MAKE IT A HABIT – Develop daily gratitude rituals. At mealtime or bedtimes, each family member can share one thing from the day that made them feel grateful. Create a “grateful jar”. Everyday write down at least one things you are grateful for and put the paper in the jar. On down days, reach in and pull out some of the notes as a reminder there is good all around. Create a grateful tree or wreath. Write things you are grateful for on a paper leaf and attach it to the tree or wreath. Regular practices help retrain our brains to see the positive.
READ ABOUT IT – Books can be a great way to introduce the concept of gratitude to young children. Consider these picture books
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
Gracias by Pat Mora
The Thank You Book by Mary Lynn Ray
The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
Thank You and Good Night by by Patrick McDonnell
The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera
Thankful by Elaine Vickers
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
We Give Thanks by Cynthia Rylant
To read more about Gratitude and Fostering Gratitude in Children –