How Gratitude Can Change the Way Your Kids See the World
In one of Monty Python’s famous skits, several wealthy gentlemen are discussing their childhoods while enjoying cigars. As each one describes the horrible details of his impoverished upbringing, another chimes in, “You were lucky!” and then proceeds to outdo the previous man’s horror story. “You were lucky to have a shack! We lived in a box…” To which the next man says, “You were lucky to have a box! We lived in a hole in the street…” And so on.
While it’s true one would be considered “lucky” to live in a box or a shack rather than, say, a hole in the street, being lectured on what we should have gratitude for is rarely productive. Every parent knows the eye rolls when beginning a sentence with, “When I was your age…” While you, hopefully, did not grow up in a hole in the street, you did grow up in a different era. Today, things move faster, lives are on full display, and every minute seems to be scheduled. Our kids live in a different world; a world we couldn’t have imagined at their age. It’s easy to get distracted by what everyone else has or does and forget to be grateful for the good things in our own lives.
How Gratitude Affects Emotional and Mental Health
Of all the attributes one can develop, gratitude is most strongly associated with mental health. Gratitude is our emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Being grateful is an abstract skill and, like all skills, it must be learned. Abstract though it may be, studies reveal that expressing thanks is one of the easiest ways to increase our happiness and to live a happy life. Gratitude is believed to be one of the healthiest emotions that humans can practice.
How to Change Your Kids’ Point of View to One of Gratitude
Teaching children gratitude is helping them look at different situations from a positive point of view instead of a negative one. So how do we teach kids to be grateful? Telling them horror stories of the past is tempting. The fact that there were no cell phones will certainly get their attention! “We had to use public payphones…” <shudder!> “We had to wait to see our friends to tell them a story…” <knees go weak> “No Candy Crush or Minecraft! <child passes out!> However, the old “when I was your age” trope can’t overcome the instant gratification so prevalent in today’s culture.
Slow down and teach your kids to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. It’s not just a bird, look how it preens its feathers and the funny way it hops about. OK, it’s raining, but maybe we can see a rainbow or splash about in some puddles. Yes, the Bumpus family’s smelly hounds ate the Christmas turkey, but now we get to experience Chinese turkey! Kids are like sponges and they will learn to see the world through your eyes, whether you intend it or not! As author James Baldwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, but the practice of seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty is a potent one. Rather than gripe about the traffic, take a moment to express gratitude for having a highway system, play a game of I-Spy, and say a word of thanks for the emergency workers clearing up the problem.
How Do We Teach Gratitude Without Lecturing? We Make It a Habit.
Creating the habit of gratitude is something that serves us our whole lives. Those who are grateful have less resentment and are usually happier people. It starts with, “Say thank you,” when they are very young and someone does something for them. Then it graduates to, “What do you say?” when they are a bit older. And then it bumps up to, “Remember to say thank you to Mr./Mrs. So-n-So.” And finally, at some point in their growing up, we check in with them after the fact, “Did you remember to say thank you?” That constant guidance, along with our own example of saying thank you, instills in them the importance of gratitude.
There are many more ways to teach gratitude.
- Make it a habit every day to ask the kids to name something good that happened today.
- Help them keep a gratitude journal where they write down things they are thankful for.
- Help them sit down with paper and pen to write a thank you note. (“No, you can’t just text Grandma!”)
You don’t get a vegetable garden without planting the seeds. It takes work, diligence, and constant tending! Having at their core an attitude of gratefulness builds a positive foundation of mental health. This will help them be comfortable in social situations, deal with negative emotions, understand why feelings matter and how they impact relationships, and improve their mental fitness building the foundation for a happy life.
Leading a HAPPY Life
With the tools and exercises we teach, we can be your partner in helping your child develop the emotion of feeling grateful. From our “Mission I’m Possible” program for younger kids, to our Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) program for older kids, to our 21 day digital coaching “HAPPÉ Life Program,” our degreed, licensed, and certified professionals will help your child:
- Examine their point of view
- Make gratitude a habit
- Cultivate skills to help them have a positive attitude
Feel free to contact us with any comments or questions you may have. Generally, we respond to emails within two business days. And if you found this blog post interesting, please feel free to share it on your social media!