By Dr. Rick Bavaria
Being thankful makes us happy. It’s simple. We’re not thankful because we’re happy, we’re happy because we’re thankful.
This applies to both adults and children. If you give your child endless gifts, they just make us feel entitled to more gifts. If you give them unearned praise, they can recognize it a mile away.
Instead, casually point out to children the limitless reasons for being happy every day. Simple things such as friends, family, a favorite teacher, a fun activity to look forward to, a loveable pet, or a favorite meal are all opportunities to teach our children to be thankful.
Giving kids regular time devoted to being thankful creates a habit that will last a lifetime and gives them a sense of perspective.
Here’s an idea: Maintain a gratitude journal where you individually (or as a family) write down the one thing you’re grateful for every day.
Format doesn’t matter.
The journal can be a fancy leather-bound notebook, an inexpensive three-ring binder, or an electronic format. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that there’s some time – just before bed, for example – for everyone to quiet down, reflect on the day, and put in simple words the one thing (or person or event or thought) you’re grateful for today.
You’ll be surprised at what your kids will write. Sometimes it’ll be humorous, sometimes touching, sometimes seemingly out of left field. They will also get insights into what makes you grateful, and it’s a great opportunity to show support and encouragement for them. (“Today I’m grateful and proud that Cindy got an ‘A’ on her spelling test. It sure seems as if her studying is paying off.”)
It can be private or shared.
Some people like to share what they’ve written. Others like to keep their journals private. Either way, it works. The important thing is that you’re spending some time thinking, writing, and establishing a practice that can be maintained lifelong.
I’ve seen journals that are little works of art, full of illustrations, clippings, photos, and meaningful quotations. They become as much a scrapbook or memory book as a journal. That’s great! (I know families where the journals become prized possessions, brought out years later as reminders of family togetherness.)
Notice the effect it’ll have.
Once the practice is set, give it some time. Eventually, you will see how everyone becomes more attuned to the positive things in their lives. Your family will quietly get in the habit of grateful thinking and will come to see how the act of writing can alleviate anxiety. You and your family will increasingly notice the simple happy moments and acts of kindness you encounter.
Need something easy to get started with? Check out these helpful age-appropriate writing prompts to get your child going!