by Dr. Carla Fry and Dr. Lisa Ferrari
Our culture trains us from an early age to reach for something new or something better. The practice of gratitude is a great way to help us stop and appreciate what we already have. If you think about it, if we are not grateful for what we have now, then what? Chances are that when we get something new, we won’t be truly grateful for it for long either.
Extensive research has shown that gratitude brings a wealth of positives: It can lead to an increase in life satisfaction, optimism, improved sleep, and a better immune system. It also helps children become resilient, compassionate, and forgiving. And studies have shown that grateful people tend to be kind people.
The family home is the ‘teaching ground’ for children and educating them about gratitude can be essential to their future happiness. But, this is definitely a case of practicing what you preach.
Dr. Fry and Dr. Ferrari have many years of experience as psychologists, which has taught them that children closely monitor their parents’ behaviours and rarely listen to lectures, pep talks, and other verbal diatribes. Children can spot inauthenticity with eagle eyes and they won’t ‘swallow’ our message if we don’t follow it up with real and consistent action.
Here are some powerful exercises parents can do with their kids to help them become more mindful and more grateful.
Step 1“Think It”
Having a gratitude mindset is very important. One common starting point is to encourage your child to think about an experience or a gift they have received. Help them to consider the investment of time and effort the giver went to in order to acquire it.
The gratitude mindset is also important in the day-to-day. One way to foster these feelings is to take a family “gratitude walk” around the neighbourhood and mindfully notice the experience. For example, ask your kids to take a few minutes to really think about their surroundings, using all five of their senses. Maybe they hear three pretty sounds, notice two beautiful trees, or feel a gentle breeze.
Step 2 “Speak It”
Many parents complain that the words, “thank you” have become far too rote. Instead, ask your kids to describe what it makes them feel grateful. Challenge them to a day where they can’t use the words, “thank you,” but instead have to say it using phrases like “I appreciate,” “I notice,” and “I recognize.” This will help kids slow down and really reflect on what exactly they’re thankful for.
- I really love the feel of this soft sweater.
- I really appreciate you asking how my day was.
- I’m so grateful our family has enough food to eat every day of the year.
- I really notice how much your hugs in the morning make me happy.
And when your child shows gratitude, be sure to recognize it and validate it.
Try not to say/do:
- Why don’t you say thank you like the neighbour’s kid?
- I’m tired of having to ask you to say thank you.
- I’m tired of giving and you taking.
- That time you hugged me really showed me your appreciation.
- It would help motivate me to make those milkshakes in the morning if you showed me that you really appreciated them.
- I will do my part once you do your part.
Step 3 “Write It”
A gratitude journal can be a very powerful tool. To start one, encourage your kids to write down three things they appreciated that day. It can be as small as getting to wear their favourite socks or something bigger like having fun with an older sibling. If your child isn’t writing yet, they can watch and help you with your own gratitude journal.
Gratitude can be taught from infancy, and is best grown by consistently modeling and coaching through all stages of development. It’s easiest on our children and on us if we start early, but it’s never too late to dig into teaching our children gratitude lessons and habits. As human beings, we are adaptable, resilient and almost always have the ability to learn and grow.