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.

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Celebrating His First Father’s Day

Father kissing baby

If your first baby was born within the past year, this Father’s Day will be special for the baby’s father. Becoming a father, becoming a parent, is one of those profound transformations we don’t necessarily realize we’re about to go through until the process is underway.

I’m not usually big on celebrating holidays like this, but I think there are ways to make Father’s Day and Mother’s Day special without giving in to the push to buy stuff. I also think it is important to take a moment or a day—any day you choose, really—to call attention to the transformation of becoming a father.

One of the reasons I don’t like a holiday with perfunctory gifts is that I don’t want my children to put a lot of their energy into what is for them a big gift or a big project only to create something that is thrown away or forgotten. I want to value their gifts, so I want them to learn what receivers will value.

Your baby is too young to quite be aware for gift giving yet, but you can set family habits in motion now by thinking about what this first Father’s Day really means for him.

It’s Not Just about Him

Don’t just make Father’s Day about him, as you would on his birthday; make it about his fatherhood. Make it about his transformation or his relationship with your child. If you give him a gift, make it a gift that helps him build on this new relationship he has as a father.

Or, make it a gift that helps him remember where he is now. You’ve heard that the time goes quickly. I’ll still repeat it for you: the time you have with your child does go quickly. You will be surprised when you see years behind you, and so will he. Your gift could mark the beauty of now and become a keepsake.

Daddy & Baby Photos

Remember this fleeting moment. Take him and your baby to a professional studio to get Daddy and baby photos. Then, repeat this every year. It takes discipline, but they will both love it. They will both marvel at how time changed them as they look back on these photos.

Anticipating Projects

Is he an active guy who is always involved in projects? Find him a great book of projects he can do with kids: science experiments, electronics, building outdoors, gardening, or anything else he loves doing. Sure, the baby is too young to do these things now, but you can spark his imagination now and watch the ideas grow along with your child.

Parenting Handbook

Do you talk together about how you will raise your child? At bynature.ca we carry only a few parenting books that we really value. One of them is Between Parent and Child, a book that was originally published in 1969 by renowned psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott and has since been revised and updated by Dr. Alice Ginott, clinical psychologist and wife of the late Haim Ginott, and family relationship specialist Dr. H. Wallace Goddard.

Between Parent and Child

Through 5 million sold, this book changed the way parents communicated with their children. Dr. Ginott believed that parenting was a skill that could be learned. If you baby’s father is wondering how to discipline and communicate in a way that your child will learn trust and self-confidence, this book is a gift that will help him and the whole family.

Your Message to Him

Your baby is too young to send the message, but you can let him know that he is doing well. Tell him what you appreciate about his parenting. Make sure he feels supported in this transformation into Father. You could just tell him, or you could write him a letter.

Whatever you choose to do, mark Father’s Day by acknowledging the importance of this new role as Father. It’s a tough job, and it helps all of us to know that we are noticed and appreciated.

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Raising Thankful Children

Child at Thanksgiving Dinner

When I see my children in unguarded moments thanking one another for the help or kindness they give one another, I am incredibly grateful myself to be able to live in a positive environment where the people most important to me genuinely care for one another.

I didn’t actually witness the specific moment I am thinking of. About a week ago, my children were both so tired and whiny that I asked how they had slept the night before.

“I slept OK,” my daughter told me, “but I didn’t get to sleep until late. J was sad and couldn’t sleep, so I read him stories.”

My poor, tired son just nodded. They didn’t want to wake me or my husband, so she took care of her brother as best she knew how. She did for him the thing that comforts her, and it worked. He had be so tired but sleepless that he was crying, and she calmed him with stories.

How can we ensure that our children are thankful? I don’t think we necessarily can, but I have a few ideas how we might best set the stage for our children’s genuine gratitude.


First Step in Gratitude Is Giving

Before we ask children to focus on what they get, we need to help them focus on giving. For example, I think that my daughter’s desire to give helps her to be a thankful person.

Learning to be thankful is easier if we understand the flow of give and thanks from both directions: as the person who is thankful and the child who experiences others’ thanks for what they have done.


Awareness of Choice

Another important key to being thankful is understanding that others don’t have to give what they do. They choose to give.

If a person feel entitled to what they get, to what others do for them, they don’t necessarily see actions as gifts freely given. To raise a thankful child, help them recognize the choice in giving. Make sure that neither side of the equation—the giving or the thanks—is forced. If they truly understand their own choice in giving, they may be better able to understand that others also give by choice.


Receiving Specific Thanks Feels Good

When a child has experience in giving, they are more likely to know that doing good for others, even giving the smallest kindness, feels good. When someone thanks them for doing good, they get a positive feeling from the giving and the receiving.

A child can begin to see that they have a gift to give with their own thanks. Giving thanks is the gift of acknowledgment.


Model Thanks

If you model the thankful behavior you want to see in your children, they will develop a positive focus on giving and receiving.

Give them opportunities to say that they are thankful. Participate in rituals of gratitude. These could be as simple as going around the table at Thanksgiving and recognizing what each person is thankful for in their life, in the harvest, in their caring circle of family and friends, or on any level. The habit of stopping to recognize what one is thankful for can become ingrained.

Being thankful isn’t necessarily a comparison with others, as in “I’m thankful that we have a bountiful harvest this year because not everyone does.” Statements of thanks are more meaningful when they acknowledge the giving of others, as in “I’m thankful for the corn and potatoes on the table in front of us because my mother carefully tended them in the garden this year.” The more they are exposed to the specific and genuine acknowledgments for what they do, they more likely they will acknowledge and give thanks to others.


It’s the Giving

Raise thankful children by helping them focus on giving, both giving kindness and giving thanks for the kindness of others. When this kind of positive giving becomes a habit, there won’t really be so much distinction between the give and take since it can all be framed as giving.


To all of our Canadian readers, we wish you and your family a very happy and bountiful Thanksgiving.

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Positive Discipline, Kind and Firm

Father and child handsWe all want to guide our children to become confident, independent people capable of self-discipline. It isn’t necessarily obvious for a parent to figure out how to get them there, though. As a parenting model, Positive Discipline seeks to give parents tools to build independence and confidence in their children, avoiding the fear that punishment brings and the self-indulgence that lack of boundaries brings. Positive discipline encourages adults to remain kind and firm with children in order to develop mutual respect.


Kind and Firm

Positive discipline developed through parenting and classroom management models of the early 20th century that sought to be respectful of children while still giving them the firm consistency they need. Positive discipline is most familiar today through a series of books by Dr. Jane Nelson and a long list of co-authors.

Now positive discipline is applied in a wide variety of settings where people want to step away from authoritarian to authoritative interactions. Positive Discipline schools help teachers and other adults to provide consistent and secure learning environments. Positive Discipline is one of the eight principles of Attachment Parenting International. I’ve seen it outlined as a practice in adult-to-adult settings such as the workplace as well.

Positive discipline is rooted in a secure, trusting, connected relationship between parent and child. Discipline that is empathetic, loving and respectful strengthens that the connection between parent and child, while harsh or overly-punitive discipline weakens the connection. Remember that the ultimate goal of discipline is to help children develop self-control and self-discipline. ~“Practice Positive Discipline,” Attachment Parenting International


What Do Parents Need to Know?

Dr. Nelson outlines five criteria for effective discipline as:

  • Helps children feel a sense of connection.
  • Is mutually respectful and encouraging.
  • Is effective long – term.
  • Teaches important social and life skills .
  • Invites children to discover how capable they are.

For children of different ages, this means that different techniques will be needed to reach the goals of mutual respect. With a baby or toddler, for example, it doesn’t do much good to reason with them. They just aren’t developmentally capable of benefitting from our well-polished speeches on good behavior. The different books in the Positive Discipline series emphasize that the person in authority needs to adjust to the needs of children at different stages of development and people in different situations.

Amongst the countless parents and teachers who express their deep gratitude for the guidance that Positive Discipline gives, I’ve seen parents say this method doesn’t work. Like nonviolent communication, I am sure that this is a practice rather than an accomplishment. If we aren’t starting from birth, it may take a while to develop the foundations of mutual respect. Rather than focus on the points of practice, it is important to keep in mind that ultimate goal of helping children become good humans.


Resources

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Reminding Myself to Get Life Right

Groundhog DayGroundhog Day is one of my favorite movies—one of those I can watch over and over. Every time, it reminds me of such a great lesson: we have to live consciously and deliberately to get life right.

Phil Connor, the mean-spirited weatherman, wakes up and lives the same day every day for what the director estimated was probably about 40 years. It took him that long to perfect his one day, losing his self-centeredness, his self-loathing, and his self-indulgence.

“You could never love anyone but yourself,” his producer Rita tells him early in the film.

“That’s not true,” he tells her. “I don’t even like myself.”

To make his one Today become Tomorrow, he has to learn to make his connections and his actions genuine. Before he even heads in that direction, though, he sinks to the lowest lows over and over again. He has to erase the old, nasty self and rebuild from nothing.

Eventually, he seems to have less attachment to outcome and more realization that he chooses his own life. So he does. He chooses his life and becomes the man he wants to be.


The Finite Endless Days of Parenting

Sometimes, day after day with children seems the same.

Those days aren’t the same though. As I recognize my children changing before my eyes—my babies becoming little kids, little kids becoming young adults—I remind myself that every day is not the same, and my chances to live those days well are not endless. It is my obligation to live each of those days consciously.


Holidays As Scheduled Reminders

Phil Connor was able to perfect his day. I haven’t managed to perfect my days. I will never be able to perfect my days with my children. I don’t have tens of thousands of chances to get each day right.

Holidays, points in the year whether cultural or personal, give us opportunities to refocus. I take New Year’s Day as a reminder to check in on big life goals. I take Groundhog Day as a reminder to live consciously. These aren’t the only times I check in, obviously, but I am glad for every reminder. It doesn’t matter to me if it takes a silly (and secretly serious) movie to remind me. I don’t mind a woodchuck reminding me.

If your children are babies, let me remind you to savor every day with them. If your children are teenagers, please remind me to show my children every day how much I love and respect them.

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