Each year as Thanksgiving approaches, there is an mighty uptick in the gratitude discussions at school. Gratitude awareness fills the mommy blogsphere. And parents begin to think about the need for cultivating more gratitude in their spoiled kids…especially as the season of gimme is right around the corner.
But shouldn’t gratitude be a year round attitude, part of our regular lives and our kids’ everyday school curricula?
We know a whole lot more about the importance of gratitude, beyond it being moral imperative and the language of mannerly behavior. There is a physical and emotional health aspect to gratitude:
- It helps us to block negative emotions and become more stress resistant.
- Grateful people recover faster and are less bothered by negative emotions.
- Gratitude strengthens one’s sense of self worth.
- Counting your blessings is an antidote to a blue funk.
The regular recognition and expression of gratitude allows us to live in the present. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis said that feeling gratitude enables you to become more of a participant in life and less of a spectator. He adds that being a grateful person enables our positive emotions to last longer, postponing the wearing off.
Research in the field of Gratitude has shown that regular expressions of gratitude actually change the way we think, change our brains. And the more you actively express gratitude, the more you will actually feel it. Why wouldn’t we want to cultivate gratitude in our children’s daily lives? It’s like a vitamin G!
Here are some tips for growing gratitude all year round.
- Model gratitude in your everyday life. Take the time to express genuine gratitude and not just a rote “thank you.” Be animated in your appreciation. Children internalize their parent models.
- Express out loud that which you appreciate or for which you feel lucky. (Look at this gorgeous day! Aren’t we so lucky to live here?)
- Show gratitude to family members and familiar people. Studies show that people, in general, are more likely to express gratitude to mere acquaintances and even strangers than to their own family and their peers.
- Express gratitude when it is not solicited or expected.
- Do not demand “thanks” from your child. Rather, show appreciation when it is given, and encourage the expression. “Grandma spent a long time looking for that sweater for you. It would make her feel so good if you were to thank her.”)
- Catch your child showing gratitude and praise the act. (It made me feel so good when you told me you loved your sandwich today.)
- Notice little acts of service and express appreciation where most people normally would not. (It is such a big help when you carry your own jacket in from the car.)
- One parent can remind a child to express her appreciation to the other parent when appropriate. ( Child: “This spaghetti is really good.” Parent: “You can thank your dad for making it.”)
- Notice the small things and share your appreciation. (“I am so glad that I live here where I can see the leaves changing colors. I love those fall trees.”)
- Pay attention. Look around you. Be grateful. Remember that true gratitude is sowed in the pauses of life.
- Create ritualized opportunities for saying thanks. (Before a meal, at bedtime, on birthdays.)
- Keep a Gratitude Journal, a list of the things for which each family member is grateful. Even read it once in a while.
- Create a Appreciation Center. On a refrigerator or a bulletin board, place pictures or symbols of things that you appreciate or for which you are grateful. Talk about them. Regularly add to that collection.
- Insist on thank you notes/expressions of all kinds. Even at the earliest age a child can be taught to send a drawing that says thank you. Let your child see you writing a thank you note. Expressing thanks is an integral part of receiving anything. No thank you, no gift.
- Explore with your four year or older child how gratitude is perceived from different points of view — the giver, the recipient, etc…The ability to know how it feels to others when appreciation is shown grows along with the development of empathy.
And, if this Thanksgiving is the first time you have thought about cultivating gratitude…
- Start right now! Every day until Thanksgiving have each family member write on a slip of fall color paper something for which he is grateful, thankful, or appreciative and keep it in a jar. Then around your Thanksgiving table take turns reading the papers. (Allow the guests to write as they join the party!)
- Start a paper chain! Every day until Thanksgiving have each family member write on a 3.5 inch by 1 inch link of fall color (or Christmans/Chanukah colors) paper something for which he is grateful, thankful, appreciative. Watch your Chain of Gratitude grow long enough to decorate your meal table or to remember gratitude at the next holiday!
- Invite each Thanksgiving guest to bring a canned good to be donated, and allow your child to be the collector. Discuss how fortunate you are to have food at your table everyday.
- Play the Gratitude Game. Each guest writes something for which he is thankful, grateful, appreciative without signing his name. The host hides one under each plate. As the meal begins, each person reads the paper under his plate and the guests guess the author.
These acts will be just the beginning of your expressions of gratitude all year long.