There is recent neuroscience which demonstrates that having a gratitude practice can offer up amazing mental and physical health benefits such as stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, feeling more connected to others, and an increased perception of joy, optimism and happiness.
It’s important to emphasize that a gratitude practice positively affects any brain at any age, and a happy brain lends to an individual that learns more, makes neural connections faster, has positive relationships through life and fights off illnesses better. For a child that struggles with anxiety, attention or any sensory processing preferences,
a gratitude practice can be incredibly helpful to shift the feeling of being uncomfortable in his own skin.
The best part about gratitude is that it's easy to practice, low cost to implement and helps both the giver and the receiver of gratitude, especially if it connects family members or the community of a classroom.
Kids are usually delighted to practice gratitude, but it doesn't always come intuitively. A natural default and protective response is to focus on what’s not working or to highlight the negative. Kids must learn how to find gratitude by practicing it regularly and by seeing the adults in their lives model it for them.
This may seem like common knowledge, but what's common knowledge isn't always put into common practice. We may know something but we don't practice it regularly, which doesn't get us beyond the benefits of knowing. And that's why I want to emphasize the need for practice here. As stated, gratitude is a practice, a simple one, but a practice all the same, and we need to help our kids regularly implement it by taking the responsibility to regularly model it and guiding them to start a routine in their own lives.
Now, I know you are busy. That's likely an understatement. You probably have too many balls up in the air already. You feel like adding one more thing to your tray will be your tipping point. Keep your head up, my friend. I feel you. My mantra is "don't' add to the plate, just integrate!" You can do this without adding anything but more happiness to your plate. I promise.
If you are here reading this, you feel pulled to better your life or the lives of the children at your feet, and I am here to encourage that call. Here, I will offer suggestions of how to use gratitude in daily activities you already do. Reasearch shows inserting a new practice into an old one is the best way to create change, anyhow.
You can do this, my friend--not only for your child, but for yourself.
Ideas for a family or classroom gratitude practice:
1. Gratitude Routine: Cultivate a simple, daily practice that is inserted into something you already do together every day at least 5 days a week.
For families: when family members are gathered for meals, go around the table to express 3 good things about the day. Or, when you are walking to school/bus stop or on the car on the way to school or during the bedtime routine, take turns and express 3 things for which you have gratitude. Try to come up with something different each time and encourage kids to express gratitude beyond a material item Example: Your daughter says,"I'm really grateful for my bike," and you can encourage her to also find gratitude for her strong body that allows her to ride the bike, the engineer that designed it, the workers that put it together and his grandparents that gifted it to her.
In a classroom: add a gratitude practice into something you do every day such as circle time. Each child can say 1 good thing about the day then pass the turn to the next child by blowing a feather to their neighbor or passing a ball.
2. Make a gratitude Jar. This can be any container, really, be it a jar, vase or basket placed somewhere in your home or classroom. It should have a pen and slips of paper attached. Family members or class participants can come to it whenever they'd like to write (or draw) one good thing in their lives on the paper and put it in the jar. Once a week/month/year the family or classroom can come together and empty it out to remember their gratitude for that time period.
3. Model gratitude through your words and actions. Tell your kids about the gratitude you have for their actions: "I really appreciate all of your help and cooperation when I was in a hurry to get through the grocery store. That really helped me get home in time to make dinner! Thank you!" Write a surprise gratitude message on your child's bathroom mirror or in their room or lunch box so they will feel your sense of gratitude even when you are not around.
3. Write a gratitude letter to someone with your child or integrate this into the class curriculum for handwriting or language development. In the letter, have the child describe all specific characteristics and actions that inspire his or her gratitude. Then have the child read it to that person in real life or over video conferencing. This is one of the greatest gifts you can offer another person: the gift of your happiness for their presence in your life.
4. Create a gratitude picture journal. Use your phone or camera and take one picture per day of something for which you are grateful. Do something amazing with all those pictures you have on your phone! At the weeks/month's/year's end, you can review your entire, grateful trip around the sun! Pictures can be uploaded on a social media site or a photo site. Another option is to use a gratitude photo app, which uploads pictures and allows you to type in a list of gratitudes. Kids love to take pictures themselves. If it works for your family, let them take their own pictures, too!
5. Generate an attitude of gratitude in your life perspective. Gratitude doesn't have to just be about looking at the world through rose colored glasses. Sometimes life is rough, and that's ok, too. We can notice the struggle. We can acknowledge it. Gratitude can also just be the acknowledgment of what is difficult or scary and then finding something that is working for you within the challenge. This effort is truly the work of life, isn't it?
6. Yoga. Naturally. Yoga is a wonderful way to practice gratitude as it connects us to what serves us both within and without. In yoga, we honor ourselves and others. We find gratitude for simple things such as our legs for carrying us through poses and our lungs for expanding with each breath then releasing what we no longer need to hold on each exhale. In my classes, we always, always pause to offer ourselves gratitude for our practice and for our commitment to nurture and strengthen within and without.
When I first began a solid gratitude practice, I had known about the positive benefits of gratitude for years, I just hadn't regularly practiced it. Even so, I had no idea how it would radically change my unchanged life in the way it did. I was astounded at how many things I began noticing that were really serving me and working for me in my life. These were things I hadn't really viewed as being precious before. My relationships improved. My back pain lessened (seriously, folks). Even something I would have never guessed, like a sick day with my kid, became part of my gratitude log, and I'm being totally sincere. Quickly, I began feeling as if my life was richer and really abundant. Some kind woman paid for my entire order in the drive thru line ahead of me, I began receiving gifts of help, kind words and friendship that I didn't solicit. The more I focused on gratitude, the more I discovered how much I had.
And so it will be for you and the children in your life. Don't take my word for it, though. PRACTICE it for yourself!
If you know someone who might benefit from this information, please feel free to send it along. I will be grateful, and so will they! Gratitude begets gratitude, my friend. Thank you, Thank you!
Lindsey Lieneck, MS, OTR, RYT, is owner of Yogapeutics in Austin, TX where she has developed the Yogapeutics Aerial Yoga & Mindfulness curriculum for kids. She teaches classes, consults with parents & schools and educates other professionals on the Yogapeutics curriculum. Read more about Lindsey HERE.
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