Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    Parenting Ideas Insights

    The power of gratitude for a happier life

    More than just a nice feeling, gratitude is integral to happiness. If we can inspire and cultivate gratitude in our children, we’re doing so much more than teaching them to be polite by saying ‘thank-you’. We’re helping them develop a strength that will positively affect their mental health and wellbeing over a lifetime. It’s that powerful.

    Remember how many times you had to remind your kids to use their manners all those years ago? I know, probably too many! Still reminding? You’re not alone! In the same way good manners eventually become a part of daily life, sincere gratitude will too. It’s worth persevering.

    Benefits of a grateful mindset

    The science tells us that compared with those who don’t, people who practice gratitude are more enthusiastic, more determined, perform better at school, are more likely to avoid risky behaviours, experience less depression and envy, are more kind and helpful, sleep better and are 25 per cent happier.

    Adolescents with a grateful mindset are more optimistic and experience greater social support, which is essential to their health and happiness. They experience more fulfilling friendships and family relationships, are more content in themselves and with their school, have higher grades and are less focused on material possessions.

    There’s simply no down side!

    Practicing gratitude is a sure-fire way to boost happiness, something we absolutely want for ourselves and for our children. In addition, teaching our children genuine appreciation helps them develop strong relationships over the course of their lives, and we know that strong relationships are critical to our overall happiness.

    Gratitude isn’t just good for the giver either. It’s wonderful for the recipient too. Do you remember how you felt the last time sincere gratitude was expressed to you? It lifts our spirits, boosts our mood and inevitably strengthens our relationship with the person expressing their thanks.

    Where do I start?

    The best way to teach gratitude is for us as parents to role model it.

    When you’re feeling grateful, tell your kids and explain why. If you do something kind for someone to thank them for helping you, share your story over the evening meal. Like all values we want for our kids to embrace, it’s ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

    Different families teach gratitude in different ways. The trick is to introduce a gratitude practice that doesn’t feel like a chore. Even if there’s a little resistance at first, don’t give up. It feels good to be grateful, so it should eventually become something that doesn’t need too much of a nudge.

    Supporting your child to become more grateful begins with teaching three fundamental ideas:

    1. Awareness that someone has purposefully done something to benefit them.

    2. Awareness that taking action to provide you a benefit cost that person in some way.

    3. Understanding that the benefit of that person’s actions is valuable to them.

    There are loads of fun ways to practice gratitude. Here are a few to get you started:

    – Regularly express sincere gratitude to your partner and to your children, explaining why.

    – Prompt your kids to note things they’re grateful for in colourful textas on poster paper on the fridge.

    – Paint a wall in chalk paint for your family to artistically (or not!) express their gratitude using chalk.

    – Ask each family member what they’re thankful for each evening at dinner.

    – Stop to savour and appreciate the little things like a beautiful flower or a colourful sunset.

    – Find the silver lining in difficult circumstances.

    – Relive happy moments together.

    – Hold hands at the dinner table and thank the person who prepared the food.

    – Ask the kids to take photos of the things they’re grateful for.

    – Keep thank-you notes at the ready and let the kids know when you write one and why. Encourage them to do the same.

    – Encourage a contribution from your kids’ pocket money towards something they want.

    – Start a gratitude journal and invite the kids to make contributions.

    – Encourage your kids to help others.

    – Help your kids reflect on what they’re grateful for, last thing at night.

    – Start a gratitude jar and each weekend spend time reading over the notes within.

    It’s really about finding the right fit for your family. You may need to try a few different ideas. You don’t even have to do it everyday, even just a few times a week works well, though it is good to get into a routine with it.

    Lastly, Associate Professor Jeffrey Froh, a leading authority on gratitude in young people, tells us that “the deepest sense of gratitude in life comes from connecting to a bigger picture, to an issue that matters to others, and doing things that contribute to society down the road.”

    Knowing this we can also be on the lookout for opportunities to fan the flames of our childrens’ passions and yearnings to make a difference in the lives of others. Step-by-step, day-by-day, we can raise grateful young people who are happier because of their perspective, and who lead rich and fulfilling lives because of what they do for others.

    Michael Grose

    Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s the author of 10 books for parents including Thriving! and the bestselling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It, and his latest release Spoonfed Generation: How to raise independent children. 

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