Nurturing a Grateful Outlook
This week at Yoga In The Park we talked about having an attitude of gratitude. Of course, we all want our children to have an attitude of gratitude and to be thankful for the blessings in their life but how do we help foster that in our children and why? Helping your child develop a grateful outlook has been shown to decrease personal stress for your child, develop connection with others and decrease depressive tendencies. Science has found a multitude of positive outcomes in adults when we practice gratitude and we are just beginning to find out how being grateful and having a practice in our homes and in school affects our children long term.
Two ways The Learning Academy will be modeling and practicing gratitude in our classroom this year are by playing the gratitude game and by journaling what we are thankful for. I will touch on journaling in our classroom a little more in another post and will focus on the game itself in this post.
The gratitude game is very simple and it started out as a personal goal that then turned into a family goal that reached into a classroom game. Seeing the impact it had on my own life and then seeing how it affected my kids inspired me to make it part of the daily routine at The Learning Academy.
To play all you have to do is be aware of things you are grateful for. I know super easy, right? Sounds like it, but how often are you as an adult taking moments out of your day to acknowledge what you are grateful for? I wasn’t doing it often enough. Being present in your day and stopping to acknowledge your blessings is a grounding, life-affirming action that takes almost no time, but will benefit you both psychologically and physiologically (I will post some links regarding the benefits) immensely. The same is true for our kiddos…but we need to show them how.
Incorporating Gratitude into Everyday Life
Then, one day the game took an unexpected turn. A stranger did a very small kind act for me and I said aloud, “you’re my number 2 today”. She gave me a strange look with a smile and then asked, “What’s a number 2”? I told her about my gratitude game and how her act of kindness had touched me. She was touched by the fact that her small act would make my list and that something she did had impacted my life. Then she said I was her official number one because she was going to start playing the game as well. Just like that we had made each other’s day a little brighter, our minds a little clearer, and reduced our stress levels. All this done with a small act of kindness and recognition of that kindness.
Introducing the Concept
After playing the gratitude game for a while, and my encounter with my number 2 lady, I decided to introduce the concept to my family. My children are 11, 8, and 5. Instead of 5 gratitudes, which I thought may complicate the game in the beginning, I just asked them to notice 3 in their day and then let them know we would share what had made our lists as we went about our day either at dinner as a family.
Two kiddos jumped right on board. One grumbled, but all did it. Five minutes before dinner, I presented them with new notebooks, glittery pencils, and a box of crayons. I asked them to take a moment to write or draw the three things they were grateful for in their new notebooks while I finished getting dinner on the table. The 5 year old, watching her brother and sister write said “I can’t write that,” and I told her to draw a picture of each thing and then if she could, sound out and label with the beginning letters of her thoughts.
I didn’t help them, I fiddled around in the kitchen until everyone looked ready, then we sat down, ate dinner and I asked them to share one (or more if they wanted) thing they had noticed. I also shared my own. And here is where the magic happens…listening to your kids notice things they are grateful for throughout the day from their perspective is amazing as a parent and sparked ideas and conversations, connections, listening and being present amongst each other that I was not expecting.
They all shared the day together however, each one had different thankful moments that were unique. The middle kiddo said “I am grateful for our next door neighbors (who are awesome) because they let us go pick raspberries whenever we want and they don’t care how many we eat,” to which the oldest responded, “oh yeah, that’s a good one, I didn’t think of that one!”
I also noticed is that they started doing the same thing I had done with the kind act lady and actually began to name them aloud as they went through their day. I overheard the middle say to the oldest, “thanks for letting me borrow that book, that’s my number 3 thing I am grateful for today.” Or when the middle held the door for the youngest, I heard “thanks, that’s my number 2”. Just like the lady I encountered, you can see on the face of the person who had done the kindness that invoked the gratitude statement that the acknowledgement of their kindness, even though that was not the intention of the act, brings about inner joy and contentment for knowing that they positively impacted another person’s day.
Bringing the Focus onto Others
As anyone who has children has encountered, having them focus their intention on doing something for others instead of demanding things for themselves helps the entire family function at a level of giving and helping rather than expecting and receiving and generally makes life more enjoyable for the household.
I have found that the more my husband and I model the behavior, by making sure to mention out loud when we notice our grateful moments and by taking a moment to stop, and identify verbally with descriptive language (not just, good job kiddo!) these kind and grateful moments our children are choosing, we all have grown in our grateful attitudes and increased peace and joy in our household.
At The Learning Academy this year, we will be playing the gratitude game daily and we actually will have a gratitude super hero cape that the children will be giving to each other to wear as an act of acknowledgement of gratitude (we have other capes as well). We will start with modeling, recognizing and discussing as a class the idea of gratitude and then playing the game. Each child will be asked to be on the lookout for one thing to be grateful for each day in our classroom and then we will be journaling our gratitudes.
I, myself, am grateful to all the parents who shared how their kids and families took this week’s Yoga In The Park lesson and applied it in their own homes and lives. The wonderful thing is that most children gravitate towards this concept very easily as it seems to just be part of our human nature and if sparked and encouraged blooms naturally.
Have a great and grateful week filled with kindness,