Thanksgiving is around the corner. It is that time of the year to be thinking of the blessings in our lives. Are we teaching our children to be grateful?
Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. If you are the recipient of an act of kindness or generosity, it can motivate you to do the same for others in the future. Gratitude is a social emotion; fostering it in children can lead to benefits for the greater good.
Jennifer Cohen Harper —educator, public speaker, mother, founder of NYC’s Little Flower Yoga, and author of the new children’s book, Thank You Body, Thank You Heart- a treasure of a book that helps children connect gratefully and compassionately to their bodies and minds. The loving messages and soothing illustrations make it a perfect bedtime book with a calming and affirming message.
Below are some insights on gratitude, and how we can instill it in our children.
- Practicing gratitude helps us build a brain primed to see the positive. The human brain has a strong negativity bias. It helps us survive but not thrive. Gratitude counters that bias so we can enjoy life to the fullest.
- Cultivating a natural sense of gratitude in kids starts with modeling from their most important grown-ups. When we pause and appreciate the good around us (explicitly exploring what we feel, think and sense in our body) we show them that appreciation is important and worth taking the time for. It’s not just about saying Thank You! It’s things like “This ice cream is delicious. I’m so glad I have a tongue to taste it with, and you to share it with. I’m going to take a super slow bite and let it melt in my mouth. Want to try it with me?”
- Forced thank you’s can backfire. Feeling gratitude and saying thank you aren’t the same thing, and pressure to say specific words can lead to resistance and resentment. We can support our kids by helping them figure out what they are actually feeling, and finding the words to match. As they get a bit older, we can start exploring how what we say to others may make them feel, and how expressing gratitude makes us feel.
- We can help kids develop an attitude of gratitude through regular rituals and activities that build mental habits. If the whole family participates it will also lead to increased feelings of connection with each other. Some examples include:
- Practicing a one-word gratitude circle at meals or another time that works for your family.
- Naming aspects of our own body, mind and heart that supported us that day at bedtime.
- Keeping a gratitude journal (these can be individual, but you can also create a family journal that everyone can contribute to).
- Writing a thank you note once a week.
- When fun or fulfilling things happen, make a habit of “taking in the good” by remembering and talking about the sensory and emotional experience of the positive situation
- Creating gratitude web art projects for things children enjoy or appreciate. A gratitude web or ice cream, for example, may have ice cream in the middle, and then around it would be the grown up who worked to buy it, the people at the shop or store who sold it to us, the person who made it, the farmer who milked the cow, the cow itself, etc.
- Letting our kids know we are grateful for them (in specific ways that validate who they are) gives them an embodied experience of what it feels like to be appreciated. It builds up their sense of self, and strengthens your relationship while supporting their capacity to feel gratitude. When we feel appreciated, it’s much easier to appreciate others and the world around us!
Jennifer Cohen Harper, MA, E-RCYT, is an educator, author, public speaker and mother, who works to support all children and teens in the development of strong inner resources through the tools of yoga and mindfulness. Her goal is to help kids, and those who care for them, thrive in the world regardless of circumstances, and navigate the many challenges they face with a sense of personal power and self-awareness.
Little Flower Yoga was founded in 2006, by Jennifer Cohen Harper, after her successful use of yoga and mindfulness at Harlem Children’s Zone in NYC had led to requests by other students, teachers and administrators for programs of their own. As the Founder and CEO (Chief Everything Officer) of LFY, Jennifer brings embodied mindfulness programing and education to schools and community organizations nationwide, serving students, families, educators, and mental health providers. She is the author of Little Flower Yoga for Kids: A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance, and the creator of many resources for schools and families, including the popular Empower Tools GoNoodle Video Series, and a variety of card decks and activity books.
Thought leaders including Daniel Siegel, Elizabeth Lesser, Sharon Salzberg, Rick Hanson and Congressman Tim Ryan have endorsed Jennifer’s work, and she has been featured in prominent publications including the New York Times, The International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Publishers Weekly, Yoga International, and Yoga Journal.