As we approach Thanksgiving, it is essential to teach and model for our children the importance of giving thanks. Gratitude, however, is a bit more complex and also must be taught and modeled. “Thankful” is defined as feeling well-pleased, while “grateful” is defined as showing an appreciation of kindness or benefits received. Being thankful is a feeling, being grateful is an action. Gratitude goes beyond good feelings and manners and involves mindset and attitude.
We aim to instill the practice of gratitude in our Holy Child students from our Young Falcons through grade 8. This is why the Young Falcons produced place mats for the Sisters at New Sharon identifying what they’re grateful for, and why our students in grade 8 are creating and keeping their own gratitude journals in religion class. Gratitude not only helps us to acknowledge our blessings, but also produces happier children.
Counting one’s blessings and showing gratitude provides real benefits. At a study conducted at University of California, Davis, Dr. Robert A. Emmons revealed that cultivating gratitude can increase the happiness factor by 25 percent and allows one to maintain a high-level of happiness regardless of outside circumstances. It leads to a happier life lived; increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy, and optimism; and for our children, a more positive attitude about family and school.
Our children are blessed with a wonderful Holy Child education and teachers who love and care for them. Many have opportunities and plentiful material possessions. Practicing gratitude provides the perspective of who or what creates the opportunities and positive aspects of our lives. It teaches our children to focus on their blessings and not on what they wish they had. It is grounding.
Ways to Practice Gratitude:
Count your blessings: Take time to share your blessings with your children. Together, say a prayer of thanksgiving before meals and at bedtime. Keep a gratitude journal by listing several specific things you’re grateful for each day. Parents should remember to tell their children why they are grateful they are in their lives.
Give your children chores: Buying children whatever they want dilutes the gratitude impulse, so avoid this. Giving them chores to do and an allowance, and allowing them to participate in making purchases gives them ownership, which helps them equate hard work with reward.
Set a good example: Children learn from their parents. When parents show an appreciation for an action, demonstrate respect, and practice kindness towards others, they model gratitude for their children. Write a note of thanks, telling someone why you appreciate them, and do it in front of your children. William Arthur Ward said that, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
Praise God: Prayers of thanksgiving show gratitude. Attending church services provides an opportunity for children to participate in gratitude within a caring community. Faith, spirituality, and gratitude are linked. Cornelia Connelly said, “How much we must all pray for each other that we may prove our gratitude to God for all He has done for us.”
Seek opportunities to help others: When children help others, they are less likely to take things like health, family, and home for granted. Families who serve and do good together are stronger. Put your faith into action. Living out gratitude through simple actions allows for the cultivation of empathy.
Look towards yourself: Don’t just look outward for blessings, look inward. Having an appreciation for who you are and demonstrating gratitude towards yourself improves self-esteem and builds self-confidence. Have your child write down three things they are grateful for about herself/himself. And do it for yourself as well!
Find the silver lining: Andrea Reiser, Happiness Coach, stresses the importance of the teachable moment and finding the silver lining when challenged. An “attitude of gratitude” moves one beyond circumstance to perspective. Although it is tempting for children (and adults) to wallow in self-pity when challenged or disappointed, it is more productive to teach our children to be resilient and refocus them on the positives they may overlook.
Practice gratitude, model its practice, and pass it on to your children!
By: Deb Borden, Associate Head of School and Director of Middle School