Giving our Children the Gift of Gratitude

It’s that time of the year again. With the holidays approaching and Thanksgiving right around the corner, now is a great time to give thanks for all that we have, all that we are, and all that we’re learning.

2020 has not been an easy year for most of us, but the challenges life presents us can foster transformative lessons that have the ability to materially improve our lives if we take a moment to listen and learn. We also have the chance to give thanks for the things we might otherwise take for granted, like the supportive people in our lives and the connection we make with ourselves and with others through mindfulness, meditation, and generosity. Not only can the act of sharing gratitude fill our hearts with love in the moment, but it’s also linked to increased happiness and self-esteem, boosted optimism, greater empathy and generosity, and even reduced aches and pains, as reported by a number of sources, including studies by Dr. Robert Emmons of UC Davis.

As we take the time to pause and count our blessings, we can also take a moment to help our children learn more about the gift of gratitude. Imagine having a gratitude practice from a young age that can be nurtured into a daily habit, allowing us to truly be grateful for all that we are and all that we can be for ourselves and for the world, not just the material things that we have or the things that we do. The key is to start with simple practices to learn what resonates with our children and what they would like to build into their lives over time. Here are some ideas to start with…

1. Sharing Gratitude at a Meal. Meals are a great time to give thanks as we nourish our bodies and take a few moments to pause and spend time with one another. An easy idea to start a mealtime gratitude practice is to go around the table and say something for which we are grateful. For older kids, it can even be fun to say one thing we’re grateful for (something positive), one thing we’ve learned (learning from a disappointment or failure), and one time we were kind to someone (celebrating the act of kindness).

2. Starting a Gratitude Journal. One of the best ways to truly embrace gratitude is to capture it in writing. Even the act of journaling can promote reflection and greater understanding, and gratitude journals can be fun to read in the future, especially on days when gratitude is difficult to come by. For younger kids who are not yet writing, drawing a picture is also a good way to express gratitude, using shapes and colors to tell sincere stories of thanks.

3. Creating a Gratitude Jar. Similar to a gratitude journal, a gratitude jar can be a place to memorialize messages of gratitude and then read them with people we love at a later time, such as during mealtime!

4. Lighting a Gratitude Candle. Sometimes tangible practices are the best way to build a lasting habit. One such practice is to find a candle with a comforting scent or special meaning and find a special time of day to light it. During that time, whenever you or your little ones pass by the candle, a moment of belly breathing and genuine gratitude can create a well-deserved respite in an otherwise fast-paced day.

5. Building Gratitude into Daily Meditations. I love to begin and end the day with silent meditation and conscious breathing. It helps me bring focus and meaning to the day. At the beginning of each morning meditation, I give thanks for good sleep and for the things I envision getting out of the day, such as safety, health, happiness, purpose, love, and joy, and at the end of the day, I give thanks for all the wonderful moments I experienced since my morning meditation. Silent gratitude meditations are good for all children, especially those who are a bit more reserved in sharing their emotions. Over time, you might be surprised how your views on yourself and your surroundings change a bit and your patience expands.

As you enjoy the holidays with your family, perhaps bring one or more of these gratitude practices into your family routine to celebrate the joys and the lessons of life and to build a transformative habit that your children will enjoy for a lifetime.

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