Life

Teaching children to be grateful

Hearts are displayed in the front window of a house in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The
Hearts are displayed in the front window of a house in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Last week we learned gratitude is a practice that has been shown to help both adults — and children — become more resilient during challenging times.

Dr. Rebecca Kennedy (Dr. Becky) is a licensed clinical psychologist who I follow who has wonderful ideas on parenting.

One of her latest social media posts discusses ideas on how to cultivate gratitude in children. I have found that her ideas also apply to me and the way I experience gratitude.

First of all, what is gratitude? And what isn’t gratitude? “Gratitude is a feeling — not a behavior,” explains Dr. Becky. “That is actually so powerful to think about. Instead of thinking ‘I want my kids to have more gratitude, what we are actually wanting is for them to feel more gratitude.’

She is so right. So how do we instill more than just the behaviors of gratitude (“Say thank you to grandma!”) in our children? How do we get children to genuinely experience the positive benefits of feeling grateful?

Below are some actionable strategies inspired by Dr. Becky on how to build a culture of appreciation in our homes and ways to help cultivate gratitude in our children.

1. Slow down and start noticing out loud. To help foster more gratitude, it’s important to slow down, and notice the times we experience warm and happy feelings.

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For example, to help promote gratitude within yourself and to model gratitude for your child, start reflecting on things you are grateful for. Share your feelings out loud so your children can hear. “Wow, it’s so cold outside today. I am so grateful that we get to enjoy being warm inside our home when it’s cold outside.” Providing opportunities for our children to witness the process of reflection by slowing down to feel a good feeling, the more our children will do the same.

2. Notice when you take things for granted. This reflection helps us to get back in touch with our feelings of gratitude. It’s important that this is done without shame or judgment. For example, when talking with your children, “Sometimes I notice that I take things for granted. Do you know what that means? It means that I am used to having something and don’t take time to think about how lucky I am to have it. Let’s play a game to come up with five things we take for granted.” Doing this activity with the kids was just as beneficial for me as it was for them. This is also a fun activity to do with your significant other to acknowledge and recognize the feelings of gratitude you have for them and your relationship.

3. Spend time expressing gratitude. Expressing those feelings of gratitude out loud is important. The act of voicing our gratitude helps to ground the feeling.

4. Gratitude in action. The choices about where we spend our free time shows our kids without any words what matters in our family. Do our intentions, words and time spent in those endeavors match up? Nothing informs our kids more about what we value as much as where we spend our time and what we attend to. Knowing that gratitude helps foster resilience will help us and our children as we continue to navigate new guidelines and restrictions that are beyond our control. Perhaps even notice some silver linings?

My ultimate take-away is that gratitude is connected to “noticing.” After the practice of verbally noticing things with my children, my 3-year old waved to our home as we left to run errands and said, “Bye house! Thank you for keeping us warm!” Thank you, Dr. Becky.

Kylie Alger is a certified wellness coach and co-owner of the Well-Woman: Body, Mind & Spirit. Comments: kylie@thewellwoman.org

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