“Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault
Life is full of unknowns and uncertainties. Children of all ages are sensitive to stress in their families' lives. Children feel emotions very strongly, but they don't always have the words to describe how they're feeling. Talking with even very small children about fears and sadness can help them feel more secure. And talking to them about gratitude can help as well!
Take time to pause and notice aloud the people and things you are thankful for every day. Kids are always listening and they pick up on our moods - negative and positive. Gratitude, or thankfulness, feels good! And it is really good for us, too! Scientists who study the brain tell us that positive emotions like appreciation and gratitude are good for our brains, our minds and even our bodies.
Being thankful lets us balance out the negative emotions like fear, anger and anxiety that creep in. The incredible thing about gratitude is that it grows and increases the more we practice it. One positive thought can lead to dozens more. This type of positive thinking decreases stress and anxiety in people of all ages.
It's been said that gratitude is like taking a U-turn on complaining and negative thinking. A game my family sometimes plays is "Unfortunately, Fortunately." It's fun for road trips or even when sitting around the dinner table. "Unfortunately, all my soccer games have been canceled, but, fortunately, we have had extra time to play lots of games together."
It's about focusing on what's good in our lives and being thankful for the things we have. "Unfortunately, Poppy can't come and visit us on Sundays now, but, fortunately, we can draw pictures to send to him! And we get to walk to the mailbox!"
Teaching children an attitude of gratitude is as simple as helping them look at different situations from a positive point of view. It’s about focusing on what’s good in our lives, noticing the small things, appreciating and being thankful. We can model gratitude and appreciation for our children. We all take things for granted, but taking time to name those things reinforces trust, calm and joy.
Here are some things you can try with your family:
- Keep a running gratitude list on the refrigerator. Bigger kids can write the words and little ones can draw. Each day the list can be revisited. What makes you happy? Watching a puppy play, helping dad cook? Add what makes you grateful? A sky full of stars, the hummingbird at the window, a hug?
- Try the Gratitude ABCs. Go through your ABCs and take turns coming up with something you are grateful for, for each letter. I am grateful for Apple pie, and Basketball, and Cats… This also works as a great tool for helping someone fall asleep. Get comfortable and concentrate on your Gratitude ABCs. The next day you can think about what letter you fell asleep on.
- Practice sharing and giving. Share first within the family and then spread to the wider community. An older child can pass on treasured toys or collections to a younger sibling. Have a basket or bag for items that can be donated to those who may need them. Clothing, toys, food for a food bank. Go together to deliver them when the basket is full.
- Express gratitude with acts of kindness. “We have so many tomatoes. Let's bring some over to our neighbor. Maybe she would like some of these flowers, too.” “ Let’s ask Mr Jones if he needs anything when we go to the store. And I know he loves your drawings.”
- Gratitude can start right now. I bet we can think of three things right now that make us feel thankful. Maybe you'd like to send a note to someone showing your gratitude!
And of course, there are always books! The titles below can help you start conversations about gratitude with the young folks in your life.
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