We all want to be happy, and as parents, we deeply hope that our kids will find happiness in their lives too. Children today are increasingly confronted with challenges -- such as depression, anxiety and stress (Grey) -- and yet many lack the internal resilience to adequately cope. How can we expect our kids to be successful and experience happiness in a world constantly taxing their mental resources? What skills can we teach them to fortify their hearts and minds for the world they will have to navigate into adulthood? One such skill is the practice of "gratitude." In recent years, research in psychology has begun to more fully recognize that cultivating the feeling of gratitude in children and adults can not only decrease depression, anxiety, and stress (Wood, Froh), but can actually lead to an increase in overall happiness, self-esteem and well-being (Froh).
During years of teaching children of many ages, I have observed how much they benefit from learning simple ways to guide their perspectives about what it means to be happy. No matter what a child's circumstances might be, there is always something right in front of them that can be appreciated and enjoyed. Being grateful is more than a feeling, it's an activity that children can learn to practice on a daily basis, and when they do, gratitude becomes an enduring mindset. Their deeper understanding of this concept leads to the ability to apply it to new situations, including those challenging ones that they will encounter in school, relationships, and at home.
Here are a few simple ways to practice daily gratitude with your kids...
1. Be a "Gratitude Role Model"
A majority of what our children learn derives from observing what we do. To teach them how to include gratitude in their daily lives, they need to see that you are doing it too. Start using words and phrases that show them your own gratitude. "I'm grateful it stopped raining so now we can go to the park!" "I'm so grateful for this delicious food!" "I'm so grateful for you because you bring me so much joy!" The use of these words will increase their familiarity and comfort level and prompt their use in your child's daily thoughts and speech.
2. Ask them to tell you three things they are grateful for
Build a routine in which they share with you three aspects of their day that they are grateful for. It might be three favorite events, people, animals, etc. that they encountered that day. This is ideally suited as a bedtime ritual -- the mind is relaxed and there will be more topics to choose from. Doing this routinely will build a gratitude "muscle," and identifying reasons to be grateful will become easier and more natural with time. Be sure to share your daily gratitude too!
3. Ask "Why?"
"Why?" is a higher order thinking question. That means that your children will need to spend a little more time critically thinking about gratitude and what it means to them, and therefore internalize it more. "Why are you grateful for that?" is more likely to spark a meaningful conversation and more deeply embed the recognition of gratitude in the child's understanding and practice.
We would love to hear from you! Please share your questions of comments below, or visit www.KaremEnsley.com.
Karem Ensley is the author and illustrator of I Am Grateful.