Written by: Kari Kling, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
“Did you hear about the boy who complained about his shoes until he met the boy who didn’t have any feet?” Growing up, this was a question that my mother asked me on a consistent basis. As a little girl, I remember wondering why she would always ask it. In reflection, I now realize that it was all about my mom’s intention of instilling gratitude in me. Fast forward…I’m now a mom of almost 21-year-old twin boys and believe that teaching and modeling gratitude is one of the greatest gifts a parent may ever bestow on their children.
Feeling grateful for what we have and not focusing on what we don't have. It all seems so simple, yes? But the truth is, for so many people, it’s just not. I truly understand that not every person has wonderful health, a loving family or a beautiful home... and that's the point. It's about modeling for and teaching our children that no matter what situation they may find themselves in life, it’s always imperative to focus on feeling gratitude for what they already have.
The study of neuroscience tells us that having a mindset of gratitude is associated with the release of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which are beneficial at preventing depression, enhancing our mood, and feelings of motivation. Over the past decade, it has been have found that people who consciously count their blessings and focus on gratitude, tend to be happier and less depressed. (Brown, Ph.D & Wong, Ph.D, both from Indiana University: Greater Good Science-Based Magazine, 2017)
Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He states that “when life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness. But what about when life is going badly?” Dr. Emmons reminds us that “during the difficult times, gratitude may not come easily or naturally, but that it is in the face of feeling ‘broken,’ that it is gratitude that can give us the power to heal.”
How does gratitude support us in our lives?
Having a mindset of gratitude adds to…
*a more positive outlook on life
*development of 'Emotional Intelligence'
*resiliency in all areas
*a 'growth mindset'
*a strong immune system
*increases financial stability (because one won’t keep feeling that they need to continually purchase ‘things’ to feel good)
We live in a world where 'instant gratification' may be the norm, making it difficult for some young children and teens to experience feelings of intense gratitude for the everyday ‘gifts’ in their lives.
Do you ever feel like your kids take things for granted?
Do you ever feel like your kids only focus on what they want and not what they already have?
Do you ever feel that your children are focused on instant gratification and may not want to wait or work for what they want in their lives?
Do you want to teach gratitude in your family but aren’t sure where to begin?
If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, I can assure you that you are not alone. As a parent coach who works one-to-one with families globally, I can promise you that parents everywhere are feeling this struggle.
More Than ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’
Gratitude is a learned mindset and pattern of behaviors. Our children aren’t just born understanding this. So how do we teach this to our children?
No matter the ages of the children in your life, I recommend using my plan that I created for parents, ‘Gratitude: My 5 Step Plan To SHOUT It Out!’ Yes, the goal of teaching gratitude to children is that they become so jubilant in realizing all that they have, they’ll want to SHOUT it out to the world!
Teaching Our Children To SHOUT It Out
Teaching gratitude begins with some very basic examples. We won’t be able to help children recognize how to feel grateful for the bigger things in life if they don’t realize the smaller, core foundations of what they have each moment of every day.
S is for Self ‒ I believe that we start with what is closest to our children, their own bodies. Most children may not ever pay attention to the wonders of the miracles that their bodies produce daily. THIS is the beginning of learning gratitude in life.
Some examples of how we can begin to have gratitude for our bodies can include teaching your child to recognize and be able to verbalize:
*My body can take in 'fuel' in the form of food and get rid of its own waste.
*I was able to get out of bed by myself today.
*My arms and legs allow me to get from one place to another, to feed myself, and to reach things so that I may dress myself and complete other daily tasks.
*My body can heal from a wound or illness.
*My body can grow and become stronger if I take care of it.
H is for Heart ‒ When you think of the ‘heart’ of gratitude, think of your family and your home. Ask your child to generate examples of this based on their own lives. Some examples may include:
*I’m so lucky to have a family and people who care about me in my life.
*I’m so fortunate to have a place to live, food to eat and a bed to sleep in.
*It makes me so happy that I have toys and games to play with in my home.
*My home has heat or air conditioning to help me feel comfortable.
*I have a pet to love. (if applicable)
O is for Our Community – When you think about your community, encourage your child to think about their school, neighborhood, sports or religious communities. Once again, the ideas your children brainstorm will be specific to their ages and lives. Some examples may include:
*There are so many resources and people around me that I can learn from.
*In my neighborhood, I have friends and people who care about me.
*I want to volunteer to help others in my community to help make it a better place.
*My school or community center offers programs or sports teams that I may participate in.
*The people who work at the stores in my neighborhood are helpful and care about the families who shop there.
U is for Unique Responses – When you think about ‘unique responses’ focus on the ability that your child has to express their own gratitude, verbally or in written form, to others and to be able to actively listen to hear how others are sharing their gratitude toward your child. Examples may include:
*The man at the store held the door open for me and helped me bagged my groceries, so I told him how much I appreciated his kindness.
*My neighbor watered my plants for me while I was away so I wrote him a ‘thank you’ note to show my appreciation.
*My teacher helped me by giving me extra help on my math assignment so I brought her a flower to show my gratitude.
T is for Time ‒ When we think about time and how it relates to living a life of gratitude, it’s important to help our children realize that not everything we may want or need in life will happen instantly. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of our children live in a world of instant gratification, creating little patience and perhaps a skewed view of how long a ‘normal’ amount of time is to work or wait for something. In many places in the world, an item may be ordered online and simply appear at one’s doorstep in a matter of hours or a couple of days. I always encourage parents to set long-term goals for giving their children time to save for wanted items and to choose the longest delivery time for an ordered item. Examples for ‘Time’ may include:
*I really wanted a new skateboard, so I saved my money from my babysitting job for over 2 months to be able to buy one.
*I didn’t have enough cash to buy a new bicycle, so instead of charging it on my parents’ credit card and having to pay interest, I waited until I had enough money saved to pay for it.
*I took the extra time to write a thank you note to my friend who gave me a birthday gift.
*We used the longer shipping method on our order to save the money it would have cost to have it delivered faster.
Additional Strategies To Teach Gratitude To Your Children
In addition to ‘My 5 Step Plan To SHOUT It Out’ to instill gratitude in your children, here are some additional parenting strategies:
*Family conversations about what everyone is grateful for
*Verbalize your thinking about how gratitude has positively impacted your life
*Gratitude Journal-Keep a family or individual gratitude journal in which you can document what you/family members are grateful for on that day. You may then use this as a springboard for family discussions.
*Gratitude Jar- A 'Family Gratitude Jar' models the same idea. Family members can write what he/she feels gratitude for on a small piece of paper and then put the papers in the jar. When the jar begins to fill up, take turns pulling out one of the papers at a time. Then, read and discuss what is written on the various papers during a meal or other family time.
*Gratitude Hunt-When going out with your child or even while watching a TV show or movie, watch observantly to identify how other people are displaying gratitude towards another person.
Teaching our children about how to live a life of gratitude is so much more than simply saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It’s about our internal conversations, how we choose to face our problems, our perspectives about life and our true happiness.
Perhaps John F. Kennedy said it best,
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” -John F. Kennedy
If you would like a complimentary copy of my graphic “Gratitude: My 5 Step Plan To SHOUT It Out,” please send me an email at email@example.com with the word ‘SHOUT’ and I’d be happy to have a copy sent to you. Thank you!
Kari Kling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Kari Kling, M.Ed., Parent Coach
Kari’s 40 years of experience as an internationally recognized educator, counselor, parent coach, and author/speaker has given her the expertise to guide thousands of parents to reach their parenting goals. Kari’s solid understanding of how we behave and learn is grounded in neuroscience.
Kari is a sought-after keynote and featured speaker for national and international conferences. She loves to meet and work with parents and their families in her home state of Arizona, nationally, and globally.
Kari states that her most powerful learning experience about parenting has been being the mom to her 20-year-old twin boys, as they have been her greatest teachers.
You can email Kari to learn more about her parent coaching services at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or check out her website and social media.