It is impossible to overstate the importance of developing good habits. In children, good habits develop their character.
Parents of young kids work on teaching the habits of hygiene and good manners.
But perhaps the most important habit we can teach our children is the habit of gratitude. Gratitude enlarges the brain and develops empathy for others. Gratitude reflects a heart of understanding towards others. Gratitude enlarges the number of friends one has—because grateful people are happy people. In his book The Happiness Advantage Shawn Achor recommends that folks keep a gratitude journal. Achor is one of more than a dozen authors who recommend this practice for keeping us on track with a grateful heart. Today book stores and office supply stores stock a variety of cute gratitude journals—but what other ways can we model gratitude for our kids and others in our lives?
When my children were small one ‘game’ we played was a “go-around” in the car while everyone yelled one thing they were grateful for that day. We started the list with ‘A’ and tried to keep it going till we got to ‘Z’ and someone had to be grateful for the ever- present zebra.
Did this one habit change the lives of my adult children? Well, it helped! I can safely affirm that claim. While some sour-faced toddlers grew into temperamental preteens and moody adolescents, my clan— for the most part— learned to handle emotions with a more steady and calm assurance that
situations change and generally, with work, circumstances improve.
When we first moved to Houston, Ted was pursuing a doctorate. Times were tight. Our daughter was going to public school which meant LUNCH MONEY!!! Naturally, before sending our first grader off to school we often had to play “find the change in the couch cushions.” Not only was this a great way to avoid negative thinking during that time but it taught her that there could be FUN in the hard times! A side benefit: now that she is a mom of six children, she has mastered that game with her own kiddos years later!
Did we accomplish this grateful thinking 100% of the time— no. I lean toward the pessimistic side of the street while Ted resides permanently on the sunny side of life.
GRATITUDE IS WORK FOR ME—ESPECIALLY IF I HAVE MY FOCUS ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES. But this was the big lesson for our kids:
DO NOT FOCUS ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES
Reaping the benefits of gratitude today, I see my happy grandchildren often writing “thank you” notes in whatever imaginary handwriting they employ for the day. They have been thankful for snails, frisbees, friends, and chocolate chips. A recent conversation went like this…
Me, “ Thank you for the sweet note. Can you read it to me?”
Darling grandchild, “This says thank you for the cookie.”
Me, “What cookie?”
“The one you are going to give me, Silly.”
Gratitude has its pay off!