Gratitude is a continuous theme in my house. I have three boys who often take for granted the various activities and treats they enjoy. The statement, from my five year old last week, when presented with chicken risotto said it all; ‘This is not what I ordered!’ After turning away to hide my disbelief and laughter, I explained he didn’t live in a restaurant and should be grateful for what he had. ‘Well, it’s still not what I ordered…’ he replied.. <sigh>
We are forever prompting our children to say thank you and teaching children gratitude is a natural progression. If you have ever been to a yoga class, you may have heard the teacher say ‘Thank yourself for taking the time to practice today.’ That simple thought and thanks is gratitude. As a yoga teacher I try to bring gratitude into each of my yoga classes. Often through connecting activities but sometimes with the help of a story book.
Research shows that cultivating gratitude increases happiness. By practicing gratitude, you can influence your mood and in turn how you face the day. You are simply acknowledging the things you do have rather than the things you don’t. It is a positive approach to life which will have an affect on your reality.
With Thanksgiving coming up this is the perfect time of year to introduce the concept to children. Just by discussing with your children what you are grateful for each day, it will encourage them to be thankful. We often forget the most obvious things, like food and shelter, clean air, friends and family. Kids learn from the behavior they see. Try thanking them for things they maybe help you do around the house. For example when you have asked them to tidy up and they finish just saying something like ‘Thank you for tidying, that’s really helped me.’
Clarifying your gratitude and how life is for you on any given day is a perfect illustration for kids. For example, it might be as simple as being grateful for getting to meet a friend for coffee or maybe having the time to sit and read a book with your child. Acknowledging it out loud will register with them.
Gratitude also reduces feelings of envy and materialism, feelings which are difficult to counteract in the modern world we live in. Try making a list with your children when they have had a bad day, an argument with a sibling or are just simply tired. Some quiet time going through their day and making a list of everything they are thankful for can turn things around. You can start with saying how much you appreciate the present moment and spending this time with them. Just being grateful that you can sit down together and make that list.
Sometimes actions do speak louder than words. And suggesting your children give a few of their toys to charity shop can make them think about what they have and what others don’t. For children, birthdays and Christmas are great time to show gratitude by writing thank you notes to all those who have given them gifts. When they are really little, it can just be a drawing that you can photocopy and send. As they get older like my oldest son who will be nine in December, you can encourage them to write a thoughtful personal note to all their friends and family who give them a present.
By doing all of these things you’re training your mind and your child’s mind to see the positives in reality. It doesn’t mean bad or disheartening things aren’t going to happen, however it does mean you and they will be able to handle it better. Gratitude has been proven to enhance empathy, improve self-esteem and mental health, reduce aggression and grateful people are more likely to sleep better and develop more friendships. So, when your kids complain, go for the attitude of gratitude; or as I like to say in our house, tackle ‘bratitude with gratitude.’
Here are some book suggestions that can help children thing about being thankful and in turn grateful:
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss is a lovely book to illustrate that we are lucky to be who we are, and very fortunate to have all that we have.
Oliver Jeffers books have become my favourites to read at bedtime. The Way Back Home is a wonderful story of adverstity, friendship and thoughtfulness.
A Friend for Little Bear by Harry Horse gently looks at the value of friendship over material items through a little bear that lives on a desert island.