As 2016 begins, we might find ourselves thinking about new years resolutions for how we can better parent our children. More than ever, it feels important to help our children develop tools that will allow them to grow into a conscious, healthy adults. One of the most important skills for emotional well being is that of gratitude. Here are give quick, easy (and free!) ways to encourage an attitude of gratitude in our children.
1. Engage in random acts of kindness: Children will often spontaneously share a toy or friendly words with a teacher, friend, or relative. Notice when children are acting or speaking in a kind manner, and say out loud how much you value their kindness. Similarly, allow children to witness you modeling being helpful and kind to others in small or big ways. Children will often model our behavior. Noticing and participating in acts of kindness as a family allows for more connection and positive experiences, which we can all be grateful for.
2. Spend time in nature: Nature allows children and adults like to slow down from the constant stimulation of day to day life. At a slower pace, we can become more mindful and use our senses to notice all of the beauty in the world around. We can feel grateful for the cool shady trees or the colors of a vivid sunset.
3. Create a nightly reflection ritual: After a meal, bathtime, and a story, children are often more relaxed and open to connection with parents. Use this time as an opportunity to reflect on the “highs” and “lows” of the day. Parents can start by sharing their own joys and challenges, which opens up the lines of communication and encourages children to reflect and share as well. Taking time on a daily basis to think about the day and consciously focus on big and small things that went well, encourages gratitude from a young age.
4. Engage in meal time mindfulness: Encourage children to be mindful at mealtimes. Removing toys, electronics, and books from the table can help children focus on their food, and use all of their senses to enjoy and appreciate their food as they eat. While eating, consider asking children to reflect on how their food came to be on their plate. For example, a strawberry didn’t just magically appear. There needed to be fertile soil, wind, sun, water, a farmer, a truck, a market, just to get the strawberry from the field to the plate. Allowing children to reflect on all that had to happen in order for the strawberry to grow and be eaten, affords a greater sense of wonder and appreciation for food.
5. Volunteer in age appropriate ways: Volunteering can help children realize how fortunate they are, by giving them the opportunity to help those less fortunate. Children may have an inherent compassion for a particular cause—some might feel strongly about protecting the environment, others may feel strongly towards protecting animals. Consider your children’s natural interests, and discover ways of helping that are age appropriate. Ideas include raising money for a local animal shelter, helping out at a food bank or soup kitchen, or even running in a 5K to raise money for a particular cause that touches your child’s heart.
Encouraging gratitude in our children from a young age will help them develop lifelong skills that support their emotional well being and happiness. Activities that support thankfulness need not be expensive or time consuming. Most importantly, make gratitude a daily part of your own life, and children will naturally follow suit…the whole family will benefit!
Monisha Vasa, M.D. is a board certified General and Addiction Psychiatrist in private practice in Orange County, CA. Dr. Vasa is the author of the non-fiction children’s books, My Dearest One andSaying Thank You. She is also a marathon runner and a student of yoga and meditation. Learn more about Dr. Vasa at http://monishavasa.com/ and read her blog on The Huffington Post.