Me to my two children: So what are you guys thankful for or happy to have in your life?
7-year-old daughter: My family.
3-year-old son: My lightsabers. And my family.
Yup, that was me quizzing them last night. Thankfulness and gratitude have been on my mind this week, and not only because we’re inundated with American Thanksgiving episodes of sitcoms. No, first my daughter is in post-party mode which means she’s working on her thank you notes to those who attended the party. She loves to draw, so she seems to happily sit down and do at least one picture a night to a party attendee. I grew up in a thank you note-type of family—I find there are thank you note-type people and non-thank you note-type people—and right from an early age, I encouraged both my kids to at least draw pictures for those who sent gifts and joined them in the festive fun.
And then, presumably themed around American Thanksgiving this weekend, I came across this article via The Washington Post which noted that children who are grateful are happier children. Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University notes in the story that grateful kids tend to have better relationships with their friends and family, have less envy, materialism and depression and even higher grade point averages. While it almost sounds Holy Grailish, gratefulness is something that seems to keep slipping my mind, so I was happy for the reminder. After all, I routinely quiz my kids about how their days went and always ask if it was a happy day. But, aside from thankful-designate holidays such as Thanksgiving, I don’t seem to regularly remember to ask my kids….so what are you grateful for? What are you thankful to have in your life?
To get some ideas on how to encourage gratitude in children, I talked with Alyson Schafer, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and parenting expert. “As I tell my children: you can’t always change your situation, but you can change your attitude about your situation,” she says. “Washing dishes might seem like a chore, but it also means you live in a house with running water and you were able to eat a meal. This is not meant to stir up guilt, but if you think positive thoughts, positive emotions flow and you really can alter you mood and outlook.”
Schafer also noted that perspective through travel can also inspire some gratitude. “My daughter went to Kenya, and that travel changed her entire outlook on what we have and how little others have and how happy they are still,” she says.
Since we’re not planning any far-flung trips anytime soon, I think for now I’m going to try and work with my favourite tip from Schafer. “Gratitude is also about keeping things conscious, so being thankful everyday by writing in a gratitude journal, saying a daily grace or prayer at bed time,” she says. “It’s about stopping for a moment to take stock and bring feelings of gratitude to the forefront.”
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