I live five minutes away from the beach, and yet I often go months without stepping foot in the sand. Sometimes, the closest I get to the ocean is when I take the back roads instead of the highway to get to or from meetings. It’s ridiculous, especially when I know that many people dream of living near the ocean or travel for hours to spend a day at the beach. And yet every time I get a glimpse of the ocean – or actually make it to the beach – I automatically take a deep breath, say a silent “thank you,” and feel a sense of peace and contentment that had been absent only moments before. It’s little moments like these that remind me how grateful I am for the life I live.
This monthly column provides tips and a helpful road map for anyone who is raising children, based on the world-renowned Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Sonoma County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email me at email@example.com.
Dear Child Parent Institute,
I have great kids (9 and 11) who are polite, get along with each other, and don’t have any behavior issues (yet). I’d like some ideas, though, about how to teach them to be grateful for what they have, instead of always wanting or feeling entitled to have more things. Do you have any tips for me?
What a great question! It’s common for children – and many adults – to behave in ways that appear self-centered, materialistic, or constantly dissatisfied. It might seem like these behaviors are part of human nature or our society that we have to accept, but they are actually learned behaviors that can be reduced or replaced with gratitude. In fact, research shows that having an attitude of gratitude changes the structure of the human brain, making people feel happier, healthier, and more peaceful. Here are some tips to try:
Set a good example. Take time to notice the things you are grateful for, even if it’s something that seems trivial. Talk to your children about the peace, satisfaction, or happiness that you feel when you watch the sunset, smell your favorite food, read a good book, get their help with chores, or put on your sweatpants and slippers at the end of a long day. Avoid complaining or criticizing other people or things, especially in front of your children. Remember they are constantly watching, listening, and learning from you – even when it seems like they are ignoring you.
Make gratitude a daily habit. Ask your children to identify one thing they are grateful or thankful for each day. Younger children might enjoy drawing pictures of the things that make them feel content and peaceful. Older children can also draw, write in a journal or take pictures. Have conversations about the things they appreciate during mealtimes, bedtime, or as you’re going about your daily activities. These simple steps can teach children to notice and find joy in the everyday moments of their lives.
Give them responsibilities at home. Running a household and raising children is hard work! Give children age-appropriate chores and responsibilities to teach them that family life runs more smoothly when everyone pitches in. Give descriptive praise and positive attention to show your appreciation when they help with laundry, dishes, cleaning, feeding pets, or doing yardwork. This will encourage them to continue being helpful, as well as increase the likelihood that they’ll be grateful – instead of taking it for granted – when other people do things for them.
Encourage children to help and care for others. Receiving gratitude from other people gives children the chance to feel good about being kind, helpful, and generous. Try to find an activity your whole family can help with – provide baked goods for a school fundraiser, serve meals at a shelter, pick up trash in your community, or visit seniors who live alone without family close by. Involve your children in picking the activity and talk about how it will be helpful. Acknowledge their helpfulness during the activity, then talk to them afterwards about how they felt. Encourage your children to continue helping others without expecting anything in return, so that they learn to receive gratitude throughout the year.
Final Thoughts: Take a few moments each day to notice the people and experiences that make you happy, content and peaceful. Express your appreciation and gratitude, and teach your children to do the same. Make this a daily habit, and you’ll find that gratitude becomes contagious.
This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 14 and 17, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at calparents.org.
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