Kids and gratitude: It is hard to believe we are wrapping up 2021. We deserve a round of applause! Some things are moving in the right direction: kids back in school, vaccination available for children 5 and up (more on that here), boosters. All important steps. However, it is hard to really feel relaxed with new coronavirus variants on the horizon, the continued divide in our country and the many people experiencing homelessness in our community. The truth is, it is still an anxious time – no question about that. What can we do to stay strong, resilient and find the positive? There are some interesting studies that suggest building a daily gratitude practice into our lives has measurable health benefits. Let’s talk about gratitude and health. Stay strong Seattle!
So what does gratitude actually mean? Gratitude is from the Latin word gratia meaning grace, graciousness or gratefulness. It is a core idea that has been around for thousands of years. Gratitude is essentially seeing the world through a lens of appreciation, regardless of whether or not your current situation is to your liking.
Gratitude and your brain
Studies have shown that expressing or receiving gratitude can change the neural pathways by strengthening connections to the reward center in the brain. People who practice gratitude every day have increased levels of serotonin and dopamine, two brain neurotransmitters that help emotional control and promote feelings of contentment. This is especially interesting because the more you practice gratitude, the easier it is to feel grateful and positive. A daily gratitude practice has also been found to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which also has a positive benefit on heart health. Additionally, people who score higher in feeling gratitude report better sleep and less pain.
Gratitude is good for the whole family
More gratitude creates more positive effects and benefits for your body, mind and health and everyone can do it. Children who feel kindness and gratitude also have improved focus, are better able to self-regulate their emotions, and have more generous behavior toward their peers.
Kids and gratitude: How to build an “attitude of gratitude”
Taking a daily pause to feel grateful is different for every family. The key is to build a gratitude practice step by step. Small steps matter and everyone starts at a different place. Here are a few suggestions to reboot your gratitude practice:
• Family gratitude mindset: Discussing the idea of gratitude as a family is a great start. Take time at the end of the day or over a meal to reflect on the positive happenings of each day.
• Make helping a family affair: Involve your kids in ‘helping’ projects. This can be delivering a meal to a sick friend or volunteering. You will be surprised at the fulfilling conversations that arise from these gestures!
• Keep a gratitude journal: Write down something each day that you are grateful for. Children can have their own journal. There is no wrong way – it can be a “dear diary,” a daytime planner, in your phone, post-it, etc. There is no pressure here, just a practice of taking a moment to reflect and write.
• Sharing is caring: Teach your kids the idea of sharing with friends and strangers. If your child receives allowance, consider they share a portion with a friend or local charity. You can also have your child donate old toys and clothes to a local donation center.
• Take a minute to breathe: Taking 1 or 2 minutes a few times a day to center yourself, control your breath and think about something you are grateful for can make you feel better.
• Appreciate yourself: Make a list of things you appreciate about yourself and say it out loud. Seriously: out loud.
• Take small steps: It makes a difference. Smile more, thank people, be less picky, notice good things, notice beauty in nature, appreciate the small things.
• Stay connected: Reach out to friends and family who are important to you.
“Enjoy the little things. For one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” – Robert Brault
Originally published Dec. 20, 2021
More from Dr. Block in Seattle’s Child:
Could my child have ADHD? What to look for
Ask the Pediatrician: Why does my kid suddenly stink?
Keeping kids safe while increasing their freedom
And more on gratitude:
The Playlist: Activities for kids that are all about teaching gratitude