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How Do You Teach Kids About Gratitude?


Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, which is a complicated holiday. Its origins and mythology are deeply problematic in their treatment of Indigenous and Native communities. And, the sentiment to feel grateful for all we have and count our blessings is a beautiful one––so, please know I’m grateful for you! If you’re celebrating, I hope you’ll consider decolonizing the holiday and honoring Native people every day, but especially this week.



 


When I read that Oprah wrote a daily gratitude journal for decades and saw an immense change for the better in her life, I told myself I would start too.

But it’s ironic––despite being a writer––I really can’t seem to build a journaling practice. I bought all the daily gratitude journals and they kept piling up on my nightstand, taunting me, unwritten.

I know gratitude is SO important. The research on its positive impact itself is undeniable, but even more, how I FEEL when I’m in a state of gratitude is something special.

So..I guess writing (in a journal) isn’t my thing.

Instead, every morning after I wake up, I look at the sun rising over the Olympic mountains in the distance from my window (or, on many days, just grey because…Seattle), warm lemon water in hand and reflect on three things that feel worthy of gratitude in that moment.

As a working caregiver, that’s all I can manage and that’s ok. (Side note: if you’re seeking unused gratitude journals, holler at me.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to cultivate gratitude in my six-year-old kid. It’s a practice, not an inborn trait. Like inclusion, but that’s a story for another day.

During the pandemic, I lost a lot of perspective on what to be grateful for, and how. We were in collective, worldwide grief.


Even so, our family has a lot. But the world is a scary place. It feels much more so thinking about what things will look like in 20 years from now, when my child is an adult. We have a lot, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and unknown. How can we find gratitude for the haves while working towards the have nots (equity, safety, a world without hunger, especially as we pass a food bank near our house every day, where the lines seem to be getting longer while the temperatures drop?) One morning, we grabbed coffee and hot chocolate from a neighborhood café and walked outside my favorite Buddhist temple. I told my son to stop and think about what he was thankful for. We then said thanks out loud to Buddhaji for blessing us with abundance, kindness, love and warmth on these freezing days (I'm glad my son doesn't mind he has to convert the Fahrenheit to Celsius for mama). I also said thanks for the fortitude so many of us have had to develop to keep on in inclusion, equity and belonging work. We now each say out loud, three things we’re thankful for at the dinner table, every evening. There’s good research around the importance of teaching kids how to practice gratitude. I’ve recently learned about a research project called Raising Grateful Children at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They think of gratitude as having four parts:

  • What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful,

  • How we THINK about why we have been given those things,

  • How we FEEL about the things we have been given,

  • What we DO to express appreciation in turn.

With my son, I’m hoping the weekend walks to the temple and daily dinner gratitude conversation fulfills the “NOTICE, THINK and FEEL,” while talking about how important it is to express it (DO) when we notice, think and feel gratitude. This absolutely applies to adults too. In trying to “teach” my son about gratitude, I realize that the person who benefits most from our gratitude conversations is me. It puts my life in perspective when his responses range from sweet (my friend sat next to me at lunch) to small (I got my favorite snack) to profound (you and daddy love me so much and not all kids I know get so much love.) Whew! Ok! Off to gear up for some family time this week, which I’m also excited about. With gratitude for you, today and always,



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