How to Raise a Grateful Child

Child at Bedtime

We want our children to recognize and appreciate what others do for them, what they have. We want to raise grateful children.

Science shows us how.

Beyond the appreciation and recognition we give to others through our gratitude, research shows that gratitude is one of those active ingredients in happiness that we have within our control. Recognizing a feeling of gratitude within ourselves and choosing to express it to others is a specific action we take that grows happiness.

For children, especially for adolescents (and I write as the parent of two teenagers, so I’m really writing about my own children), there will be tough times ahead. Even those of us who had happy childhoods met challenges.

Research on gratitude for children suggests greater happiness, optimism, satisfaction, and engagement for pre-teens and teens who are grateful. The concept and the research aren’t so squishy as they might seem.

What I find exciting about research like this is the clear road. Intuitively, we probably realize that it’s better for us to be grateful than to be ungrateful. Quantify and analyze that gratitude, and we find that happiness and its associated effects are largely in our own hands. For children who might feel like life is out of their control, grasping their own power and responsibility is huge.

Habit of Gratitude for Children

As soon as you start talking to your children, from the first day, you can model gratitude. Tell your child what you are grateful for. Once your child can talk, ask what they are grateful for. Make gratitude and expression of gratitude to others a habit in your lives together.

Positive attracts positive. Positive creates the expectation of positive. Positive builds a pattern of looking for more positive. When we express gratitude and encourage our children to express gratitude, we set those patterns of positivity for our children.

One way to build a habit of gratitude for children is to ask at bedtime what your child’s three good things are. This idea is from Christine Carter’s video “Gratitude 365.”

In their book, Making Grateful Kids, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giancome Bono suggest 32 strategies to encourage gratitude based on seven essential themes.

  1. Model and teach gratitude
  2. Spend time with your kids and be mindful when with them
  3. Support your child’s autonomy
  4. Use kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude
  5. Help focus and support kids to achieve intrinsic goals
  6. Encourage helping others and nurturing relationships
  7. Help kids find what matters to them

For more details on the seven essential themes, see “Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids” at the Greater Good Science Center or read the book, Making Grateful Kids.

Resources

Jeffrey J. Froh and Giancome Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character, Templeton Foundation Press, 2014.

Image © Alekuwka | Dreamstime.com - Child Awake Photo

Toys That Encourage Open-ended Play

Painting as Open Play for a Child

In open play, a child’s imagination guides use. Simple, open-ended toys can be much more than one thing to any kid. A child’s early education involves play, imitating adults’ actions around them and exploring their surroundings—including their toy box.

Single-purpose toys with pre-determined limitations and outcomes keep a child busy, but they do not engage the child in creating their own worlds.

Open-ended play means a child has freedom to create their own rules within the environment and transform all objects as their become part of experience. Toys in an open-ended environment are simple enough to have many uses—any use the child can imagine. Yes, blocks can be used to build or they can be food. Yes, play silks can be wings or they can be baby doll blankets. Yes, a doll can be a baby or a doll can be an audience.

Open play encourages abstract thinking and active creativity and problem solving. The characteristics a child brings to this world are given free reign. Children also learn as social and emotional skills are needed, meeting each challenge as it arises. They develop fluency in the ideas and materials of their world.

As parents, we—Nature Mom and I both—have made the way clear for our children to create their own play spaces by giving them simple, natural toys that can be transformed in play. To help you do the same as a parent, in the bynature.ca store, we make every effort to support open play with the children’s products we carry.

Dress up Toys

Silk reversible cape for a child

Silk cape

An overflowing dress-up box enables a child’s self transformation. Simple pieces can be worn many ways.

Building sets

Maple wood blocks toy

Colored maple wooden blocks

With blocks and building sets, you can choose cubes or shapes; stackers, magnetic blocks, or no connection at all; beautiful colors, story blocks, or just simple, beautiful wood without embellishment.

Dolls

Waldorf doll big friend

Waldorf Doll

The dolls a child needs as a baby, a squeezing bonding doll, differ from the dolls a child needs as they begin to imitate life. Choose dolls as well as the doll baby carriers and diapers that encourage your older child to take care of their baby doll.

Musical Instruments

Wooden musical instruments

Wooden musical instruments rhythm set

Music and rhythm instruments give a child the power to create a variety of sounds. Children are delighted when they discover this power.

Art Supplies

Glob natural paints for kids

Natural paints

Natural ingredients, particularly the colors, in the art supplies distinguish the bynature.ca collection.

More on Open-ended Play

Cultivating Compassionate Kids

Child sitting quietly

How can we help our kids be kind to others? Beyond telling them, “Be nice,” which seldom reaches past the surface, science shows us that there are specific practices in cultivating compassion that can change our brains and our actions. If we help our children learn these practices, we help them learn kindness and compassion on a deeper level.

I’ve been writing a bit lately on mindfulness and meditation as it can be applied by us, the adults, in simple ways in our busy lives. This comes from my own seeking. I’ve been calling it my Happiness Project for myself and my family.

As part of this project, I’ve recently been taking a course through edX (online MOOC, massive open online course) called The Science of Happiness, taught by two scientists from the UC Berkeley Great Good Science Center.

It’s easy enough to express a vague wish to be happier or to help my children be happier, but understanding the science of happiness helps motivate me to take clear steps forward. I know what works and why. No barrier left.

Over the next couple of months, I will share with you some of the work of the Greater Good Science Center on children, parenting, and marriage. I figure, if you find that cultivating this kind of peaceful focus is working well for you as a person, as a parent, as a partner, it makes sense to want to share this with your children.

Today, I want to share an article and short video from the Center suggesting that when you want to start meditating with children, an option is loving-kindness meditation (metta). This is a specific kind of meditation in which we repeat a few phrases that express our desire for safety, health, and happiness for ourselves and for others.

Read instructions for the meditation and watch the video here:
Christine Carter, “Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day: How to Teach Kids Loving-kindness Meditation,” Raising Happiness blog, Greater Good Science Center, 10 September 2012.

Research on loving-kindness meditation is interesting. A little bit (7 minutes) can increase your feeling of connectedness, and a lot (10,000+ hours practice for those studied) can change your brain.

One of the researchers into this neuroplasticity, Dr. Richard Davidson, has also been active in finding application of the research through mindfulness and meditation training to cultivate well-being. I keep meeting him through articles and videos, so I’m sure I’ll mention him to you again.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll come back with ideas about how to teach your children gratitude.

Resources

  • “The present study demonstrated significant effects of loving-kindness meditation on both explicit and implicit positivity toward neutral strangers. Even a brief (7-min) exercise in cultivating positive regard was sufficient to induce changes of small to moderate effect size.” Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness,” Emotion 8:5 (2008), 720-724. http://spl.stanford.edu/pdfs/Hutcherson_08_2.pdf

Image © Eleonoraos | Dreamstime.com - The Girl Meditating On The Beach Photo

Family Halloween Party Ideas

Kids carving pumpkins

Are you throwing a Halloween party? I love gathering with friends on Halloween, just a few families for dinner and wandering the neighborhood.

We have friends who live in a neighborhood that is crazy for Halloween decorations and lights. We arrive at their house when it isn’t quite dark, and we all eat dinner. As the sun goes down and the lights come up, we join the rest of the neighborhood in wandering from house to house.

I’ve pulled together a few ideas for games you can play while it’s still light then more traditional activities that ease your Halloween into a Samhain celebration of the end of harvest.

Finish the Harvest

Before party time, gather the last of the food from your garden and clean up the yard. Make a wreath from your own garden. Mine will include a lot of grapes from this year’s bumper crop.

Fun Halloween Games for Kids

You don’t need more than two or three games for kids. If they are in costume, they can make their own fun. Here are a few simple games to bring them back to occasional focus.

Bones relay. Cut out simple outlines of bones to create a full skeleton. Put a piece of tape on each bone. Depending how many children will be at the party, you could have more than one set of bones. Start each skeleton with a skull on a wall or a large board. Put the pile of bones at least 10 feet away. Have one child start by picking a bone and running to the board with the skull to add the bone. Then, the child runs back to touch the next person, who chooses a bone and runs to put it on the board. The relay continues until all of the bones are stuck on the board.

If the kids don’t know how a skeleton fits together, it’s OK. Guessing works just fine. The fun is in seeing how wild the final skeleton can get.

Any party game involving the harvest is perfect for this end-of-harvest-season celebration.

Bobbing for apples. Fill a metal tub with slightly warm water. The cold weather will cool it down, and you want people to stick around long enough to get an apple. Have kids gather around the tub. One at a time, have them hold their hands behind their back and bite at an apple using only their mouth. It gets very wet!

Squash bowling. Put 10 tall, flat-bottomed squash at one end of a lawn in triangular, bowling configuration. Butternut squash are perfect for this. Then, give each player a small round squash (like a pumpkin), small enough to hold with one hand, and let them roll it across the lawn to knock down the squash pins. You don’t need to keep score because everyone has fun with this one.

Carve a Traditional Jack-o-lantern

If your children are going to prowl the neighborhood for treats, how about using traditional jack-o-lanterns?

Carve jack-o-lanterns not just from pumpkins but from turnips and beets as well. You could do this activity earlier in the day or even the day before. (They dry out if you do them too far in advance.) Suspend the small lanterns by strings hanging from sticks. You can either put a tea light or a battery light in each. Carry these around to light your night. Leave them lining the walk when you get home to light the way for the ghosts who return that night to find their way home.

End with a Bonfire

When the kids get home and the parents just want to sit in a circle and talk, it’s a perfect time for a bonfire. Tell stories. They don’t need to scare the children, but it is traditional to tell stories about your own dead friends and relatives.

Be sure to leave an extra, empty place setting inviting the dead to join you. Welcome the dark half of the year with the fire. The fire is orange; the night is black.

Have a bountiful end of harvest.

© Ilona75 | Dreamstime.com - Boy Busy Carving A Pumpkin Jack-o-lantern For Halloween Photo

RL Community—You Know, Face to Face

Mothers with babies in the partk

Do you access your community through a screen? With more screen access, both parents and children are making their social ties online. Online social networks, though, don’t teach our children the same lessons that face-to-face communities do. This is more than just a need for natural play beyond the screen.

For their normal development, your children do need participation in a robust, face-to-face community.

Within the field of child development, there is a lot of research on community. In what kind of communities do children and families thrive? The research is often related to learning and school. Ultimately, though, research shows that the community in which a child grows shapes the child’s understanding of society. A local community is, for the child, society in microcosm.

Thinking more broadly about what the whole family, not just the child, needs, community is our support system, where we participate and share experiences. We weave our safety net from our community.

We can certainly get a shadow of that support and participation from our online social networks, but those usually consist of ties to people that we are connected to outside the network. A community, online or offline, is a more robust social structure that grows around a common interest. Even when we participate in genuine communities online, they don’t have the richness, complexity, or resilience that face-to-face communities can have. Online ties are weaker.

You probably have points of reference for participation in face-to-face communities that your children will not because they will grow up in a far more screen-mediated world. They won’t realize how deep social connections can be unless they experience those connections. Your children do need the experience of those face-to-face relationships.

Even if you don’t feel a burning desire for community in this moment, you build now for the future. That is how a safety net works.

Finding – or Building – Your Tribe

Every once in a while, I mention an article in Mothering years ago, “Finding Your Tribe,” because this article was a trigger for me about 15 years ago. I was in graduate school, living far away from my family and my husband’s family, and I didn’t really have much of a social life outside of school. One my first child was born, I spent time with other local homebirthers who had shared the same midwife. When I read that article in Mothering, I realized that the people I was spending time with, these other new parents, were my tribe. Just that realization and my dawning understanding of how important it was to have a strong community helped me to cherish this group of families even more.

I mention the article often because I keep hoping that you will find a similar group of people who support you in your parenting journey. Whether you realize it or not, it will help you and your children.

Maybe you already have a community you can strengthen. If you have friends nearby, you’ve got the pieces ready to be matched together.

If you don’t have a group already and you aren’t sure where to start to find a community, especially if you are new to an area, you might just have to plant the seeds yourself and help community grow. Weak social ties can grow to become strong social ties.

You could start a group around your children and just keep inviting new people until you start to build stronger relationships and a core group pulls together. That core group can grow to become a community.

Ideas for groups around children:

  • Play group for crawlers.
  • Game day for children of all ages, with different games each week.
  • Project group for mothers with baby play on the side.
  • Baby yoga and social time for mothers.

If you already have strong interests, you can strengthen your ties with those who share your interests. My family is friends with a family that is very connected to renaissance fairs. They spend months a year dressed up, painting faces, and participating with their tribe. Their youngest child was born at the fair. Their closest friends are with the fair. When one group of their friends started a new fair, they went, too, and they are spending their summer at the new fair building making a lot of connections and gradually strengthening ties.

Whatever the interests you build around, you build community by strengthening ties and building genuine relationships within that group.

Your children will learn how the world works from their ties within a complex community. It is worth the discipline and effort to pull back from predominantly weak ties of screen time to build strong ties within a face-to-face community.

For an example of one family’s experiment in seeking connections beyond their screens by unplugging for six months, read Susan Maushart’s The Winter of our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale (2011).

Image © Leaf | Dreamstime.com - Mothers And Children Enjoying Picnic In Park Photo