It’s mid-November, the time of year for turkey and shopping and eating and family and celebration and football! And like the name of our Thanksgiving holiday suggests, it’s a time to reflect on all we are thankful for.
But scientists tell us if we demonstrate gratitude all year round it has innumerable benefits including less depression, better impulse control, greater optimism and positivity, a stronger immune system, and lower levels of stress hormones. The bottom line – people who feel and express sincere gratitude regularly are happier and more satisfied with their lives.
Now get this – you can teach kids gratitude! You can help children improve the way they feel about themselves and their world. We know that children with complex learning and attention issues often suffer from poor self-esteem, impulsivity and a sense of hopelessness. Combating all that is difficult, but helping Complex Learners practice gratitude can have a significant impact on their outlook and behavior.
There’s no magic formula for instilling gratitude into a child’s life, but here are a few ideas to consider:
Teach Children When They’re Young
Creating a habit is easier for younger children so begin instilling habits of gratitude early. Instead of just focusing on thanking people for gifts, encourage children to draw a picture or make a thank you card for someone they love and are grateful for. Have a decorative Gratitude Jar at school or home so anyone can add a note about someone or something they are grateful for.
Books about gratitude provide stories to reinforce its importance in fun ways. Here’s a link to a list to get you started but there are many more. At the Wolf School, all our students (even the Middle Schoolers!) read How Full is Your Bucket ? and at a weekly All-School Assembly, the Head of School reads from paper drops the students and staff have filled out thanking each other. The drops offer thanks for helping to pick up after an activity to being someone’s friend, recognizing that the little things add up to rewarding relationships and a positive school environment.
You can also incorporate gratitude into everyday routines like taking a walk and pointing to all the things you see that you are thankful for (trees, flowers, neighbors, etc.). Bedtime is perfect to think about something that happened during the day that you are grateful for, or have everyone around the dinner table take a turn to say one thing that happened during the day that they are grateful for.
Older Children can Still Learn Gratitude
There are any number of activities and strategies pre-teens and teenagers can do to up their gratitude quotient. Here are a few you can suggest to your kids:
- Keep a gratitude journal with lists, drawings, and stories about what you are grateful for
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital or animal rescue shelter
- Get involved in a food or clothing drive – go through your own clothes and other items and bring them to a shelter in need
- Write thank you letters, but in a way that doesn’t feel like work – find or design fun cards/postcards or use an E-card program to send thank yous through email at any time
- Do something kind for an elderly neighbor – rake leaves, shovel the driveway or bake cookies
Gratitude and YOU!
Children need to practice gratitude over time and will learn not only from what they do but from what parents and teachers do as well. If you show appreciation it goes a long way. Thank your child for doing a chore that wasn’t expected, or for holding the door open for others. Prompting good manners is one thing, but you must show good manners as well.
Instead of making this season all about presents, curtail trips to the mall and go to the park or a community event or watch movies together as a family. Focus on experiences rather than things, and show your appreciation for everything you have instead of comparing yourself to others. Acknowledge (out loud) the goodness in your life and remember to treasure what you have, not what you don’t have.
Remember, life is not like a Hallmark card and no one is perfect. If your child doesn’t say thank you right away for the ugly sweater or socks from Aunt Sue, you may have to request that thank you. And if it seems a little stiff, it’s good later to remind your child that when someone does something kind you say thank you – it really is the thought that counts.
What have you done to help your child and your family practice gratitude?