Gratitude is the act of showing appreciation and being thankful.
Research shows that people who build a habit of practicing gratitude - who think about the good things in their life consistently – have better mental health!
- Improve social connections and relationships
- Buffer against stress and increases resilience
- Boost energy levels
- Increase self-esteem
- Adds a sense of meaning
Before Teaching Gratitude
Start by explaining that there is physical health and mental health.
- For example, you might say something like: “We often do things to stay physically healthy, like eating vegetables and getting enough sleep. Can you think of other things that help us stay physically healthy?”
- Children may have ideas like exercising, brushing teeth, wearing sunscreen, etc.
- Then talk about how there are also habits we can build that help our thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts and feelings make up our mental health.
One way to develop mental wellness skills can be to create the habit of noticing and saying out loud what we are grateful for.
Some families keep a gratitude journal, others talk about it in the car or around the dinner table, it’s really about having a consistent time every day to share things that happened that we are thankful for. It can help break negative thought patterns and refocus on some of the positive things in our lives.
Before we talk about activities to build the habit of gratitude, we want to mention what it does not mean.
So My Child Should Always Be Happy?
Gratitude does NOT mean that you have to be thankful for hard of painful experiences.
Toxic positivity is the idea that you should be happy no matter what is happening in your life. For example, statements like “You should be glad you aren’t going through something even worse” or “well what’s a good thing that came out of this?”
Everyone has feelings and life is hard and unfair. Sometimes there’s nothing positive to be said about a painful experience. Pretending we don’t feel sad, angry or hurt doesn’t make those feelings go away. Instead you can validate and help teach children how to express those emotions in a healthy way.
If a child is struggling with a problem or situation that’s been very challenging for them, that is not the time to think of things they’re grateful for related to that situation. We want to listen to how they’re feeling.
Think about only practicing gratitude as a habit versus a coping tool.
Interested in building the habit of gratitude at home? Download and use the handouts to help!
- Growing Our Gratitude can help you think of things that you’re grateful for. You can think of things in your environment, people in your life, or personal successes. Help children identify character traits (I work hard, I like to sing) instead of external or superficial things (I have the best shoes).
- We’ve also provided two different kinds of notecards that you can print and give to loved ones, friends or others that children want to express gratitude for.
- And you’ll find the 7 Days of Gratitude that can help your family create a daily habit of finding things to be grateful for. We know these kinds of daily practices are what truly makes an impact to our mental health. Consider talking about it over the dinner table. What did you learn from trying to write down things you were grateful for every day for a week?