Practice Gratitude with Children
The festive season is amongst us, and Christmas will soon be celebrated traditionally in Christian majority. There are countries around the world who haven’t heard an elder say at Christmas time, “children today are so spoiled, and they don’t know how lucky they are…” This may be true in some cases, like in the more-affluent parts of the world, but is it truly the children’s fault that they don’t know how lucky they are?
Children who live through hardship will naturally learn to be more thankful when good things come their way. But how can a child learn this “thankfulness” or know the more popular term of “gratitude” if they haven’t had to struggle for what they have, or experienced hardships?
I’ve found the best ways to teach this is by being a role model in practicing gratitude, teaching practical lessons on gratitude, and showing kindness towards others who are less fortunate with my kid’s yoga classes.
For Christmas, we do simple, yet important things such as buying a gift of a chicken for a child in a third-world country through organisations like Unicef. We then hang the card on the tree to remind ourselves on Christmas Day of those who are less fortunate. At a young age, children can be given a gratitude journal to start practice writing and drawing pictures of what they are grateful for each day, week or month.
Adults can practice this too, for better sleep and optimism about life, which can set a more positive, grateful attitude within the home.
A study found that adults with neuromuscular disorders felt more optimistic about their upcoming week and feel more refreshed upon waking than those that didn’t keep a gratitude journal. Another study found that adults that practised gratitude showed more emotional support to others as a result of journaling gratitude. (The University of California and the University of Miami, R. Emmons Ph.D. and M. McCullough)
In lessons, I ask children to think of three things they are thankful for and to make ‘gratitude jars’ for the year and every time they are thankful for something pop on a note in a jar and at the end of the year remember all those wonderful things. Another good way to encourage gratitude is to expose children to volunteer work by getting the family involved or listening to stories of others who have volunteered in their community throughout the year.
Conversations like these are easy to have throughout the year, and not just at times like Christmas.
For example, my elderly mother volunteered her time for three years for not-for-profit organisations when she retired and often told stories and involved her grandchildren in activities around her work.
Numerous studies have found that it is not only a parent’s “noble task” to do, that is, pass on the ability to show gratitude, but it can also make you and your children happier and healthier. The University of Texas Health Science Centre found in one study that ‘a growing body of research shows gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.
So, practice gratitude with children for a healthy heart, mind, and body. In turn, the world may become a kinder society, overall, for everyone.