Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Five Ways to Raise a Grateful Child

Gratitude is more than behavior—it is also an internal experience, one that we can help children cultivate.

Would you like to raise a thankful child?
If so, you’re not alone. Parents’ desires to raise children who are happy, healthy, and, yes, grateful are documented in countless website postings, TED talks, and parenting guides. Indeed, family specialists predating the modern-day parenting movement acknowledge gratitude as among the traits of a healthy family.
But how? Children may express gratitude regardless of whether they deeply experience it. They may learn to say thank you or show appreciation without the underlying experience of gratitude or, as one six-year-old girl in our studies said, “They may say it, but they don’t mean it.” Although this may help children meet social expectations, they may miss out on documented benefits of gratitude down the road for building stronger social relationships, improving life satisfaction, and enhancing psychological well-being and overall health.
Gratitude is more than behavior—it is also an internal experience. As I described in my previous article for Greater Good, our research team for the Raising Grateful Children study has developed a four-part model of gratitude that involves noticing the things people give us, thinking about why they give them to us, connecting how we feel to the receiving of gifts, and expressing appreciation. The key to helping kids develop the gratitude habit is to engage all four parts of the model: NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO.
How can we help children mean it? Here is our list of the top five big things we can do to get the little things right each day.

1. Model thankfulness

Parents who try to be grateful have children who demonstrate more daily gratitude. In addition, parents who are more grateful are also more likely to engage in other types of parenting behaviors that foster gratitude.
Although modeling gratitude includes expressing your appreciation to others, we also think that children may benefit from seeing their parents model the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL parts of gratitude. Modeling these internal experiences can be as simple as saying your thoughts out loud.
For instance, parents can help children notice not only a gift that they have been given but also the deeper meaning behind a gift—or the gift behind the gift—by talking to their children about their own experiences of receiving: “I love this sweater that Aunt Dottie sent me, but what is really special to me is that I know she was thinking of me when she bought it. This is my favorite color and she knows that. It just reminds me that she loves me enough to go the extra mile and get something that she thinks I will really love.”

2. Embed it

Parents play a critical role in creating the environments or niches in which their children develop. These niches may be as formal as the after-school activities or as casual as the playground where they choose to hang out. Our work shows that parents who select niches for their children at least in part guided by the goal of fostering children’s gratitude are more likely to follow through on that intention. In turn, children who are involved in more activities selected by parents to foster gratitude more frequently display gratitude.
We believe these findings are significant because they suggest a way that parents may affect their children’s gratitude—by being more mindful of their own goals for their children. Parents make frequent decisions that shape the environments to which their children are exposed, and they select those environments based on a set of sometimes competing goals. Do you foster healthy bodies through sports or civic engagement through community service?
To the extent that gratitude is one of the goals parents hold in making these choices, children may benefit in more ways than one.

3. Talk about it when it’s there

Moments when children do express gratitude can provide important teaching opportunities.
In the Raising Grateful Children project, we asked parents to talk with their children about a time when their children showed gratitude. Studies of children’s memory show that when parents and children reminisce together about positive events, parents can improve children’s recall by how they ask questions. For example, parents who use more open-ended, child-focused language have children who remember more details about positive events.
Such conversations may even help children connect what they notice in the gifts they’ve received to their thoughts and feelings at the time—and even how those thoughts and feelings motivated acts of gratitude toward others. In our ongoing work, we are testing whether such conversational strategies indeed scaffold the receiving experiences of gratitude and connect them to the expression of gratitude. 

4. Talk about it when it’s not there

Across the board, parents in our studies have a harder time talking to children about times when their children were not grateful. These may be times when their children showed entitlement or simply missed the opportunity to experience gratitude. These missed opportunities can be embarrassing and even infuriating for parents. 
So, how do we keep our cool and help children to use these challenging situations as a learning opportunity?
To talk about missed opportunities for gratitude, we suggest that parents start by using the same conversational skills they use in talking with their children about times of gratitude. Listening carefully to children’s experiences of these moments, through open-ended child-centered conversation, may provide parents with clues as to what is getting in the way of their children experiencing gratitude. Are they making assumptions about how a gift came their way? Are they focusing on something else in the moment that is important to them and distracting? Do they not yet have the skill of seeing the situation from someone else’s perspective? 
By first learning about how children see these moments, parents may gain new insights into how to get these moments back on track and help children to catch opportunities for gratitude when they come along.

5. Repeat it often

The experience of gratitude can be complicated and, like any skill, may take practice, reflection, and time.
Making sense of gifts we receive through our thoughts and feelings is even more challenging, because it requires children to use other-focused developmental skills like empathy and perspective taking. As children gain these competencies, through maturing brains and practice, experiencing gratitude is likely to become easier.
And learning to connect thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can be a lifelong skill that we all re-work over time. As children grow, their opportunities for experiencing gratitude increase. Children who can learn to receive the gifts behind the gifts in their lives may be better positioned to take advantage of opportunities for experiencing gratitude. And, in turn, to express their gratitude to others.
There is a lot of advice to parents out there about how to foster gratitude in children. We know that it can be overwhelming to parents. Our last piece of advice? Start slow. Pick one thing to work on until it becomes a habit and then build from there. After all, we raise children one moment at a time.

What Parents Neglect to Teach about Gratitude

Research suggests that the experience of gratitude has four parts, but we rarely teach all of them to our kids.

Some parenting experiences are nearly universal. The wonder of an infant’s first smile. The excitement of a toddler’s first wobbly steps. And the pride in hearing these two words come out of your child’s mouth without you first having to nudge them along: “Thank you.”
But what does gratitude mean in children? Most early studies of children’s gratitude focus on acts of appreciation. For example, in one classic 1976 study, researchers made audio recordings of children on their Halloween rounds and found that 11- to 16-year-olds were four times more likely to say “thanks” for the candy than six-year-olds.
Today, psychologists studying gratitude note that being grateful means much more than just saying thank you. Not only is the experience and expression of gratitude broader than thanking others but it requires children to use a set of complex socio-emotional skills. For example, researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro argue that gratitude in children involves perspective taking and emotional knowledge, skills that children begin to develop more quickly around ages three to five.
In the Raising Grateful Children project at UNC Chapel Hill, we’ve explored gratitude experiences with families as their children have grown from kindergarteners to young teens. Based on the scientific literature and our conversations with parents, we’ve come to think about gratitude as an experience that has four parts:
  • What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
  • How we THINK about why we have been given those things
  • How we FEEL about the things we have been given
  • What we DO to express appreciation in turn
Older children and adults are more likely to spontaneously engage in all four parts of gratitude, but younger children may only engage in some of these parts, only when prompted. Children may show more gratitude as they gain cognitive skills, collect practice with those skills, and begin to connect the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL parts of experiencing gratitude with the DO part of expressing gratitude.
This model emphasizes that gratitude is about how we receive things in the world as well as how we give to others. Indeed, when it comes to children, our team expects that helping them learn to deeply receive things in their lives will help engender genuine experiences of gratitude. These experiences, in turn, may motivate the appreciative behaviors that parents want to see in their children.

How kids learn to give thanks

In addition, the four parts of gratitude give parents several options for how they can help their children learn about gratitude.
Over a ten-day period, we asked 100 parents to tell us how they had tried to foster gratitude in their six- to nine-year-old children on that day. Some of these behaviors focused on how parents encourage their children to show gratitude, like reminding them to say thank you or expressing thanks in ways that go beyond words. The rest of the behaviors focused on what children noticed, thought about, or felt about things they received.
What we found is that parents, like the first gratitude researchers, focused on what children DO to show gratitude. Most parents (85 percent) spurred their children to say thank you and show gratitude in ways consistent with good manners. A smaller portion (39 percent) encouraged children to show gratitude in ways that went beyond good manners. About half of parents said they had pointed out to their children that they had received something (a NOTICE behavior). But even fewer parents asked children about how a gift made them feel (a FEEL behavior reported by only a third of parents) or why they thought someone had given them a gift (a THINK behavior reported by 22 percent of parents).
We think children may be understanding what is important about gratitude based on their parents’ behaviors. These behavioral messages may in turn shape how children show gratitude.
When parents reported on how often they saw the types of gratitude in their children using these same daily diaries, what children DO to show gratitude won out over what they NOTICE-THINK-FEEL. Almost all parents reported that their children show well-mannered gratitude (like saying “thank you”) on any given day of the study, whereas only half said that their children show gratitude in ways that went beyond “good manners.” Many parents (over 60 percent) said that their children NOTICE things in their lives for which they could be grateful or connect positive feelings to the experience of receiving. Less than half, however, reported that their children thought about the reasons why someone gave them a gift in a way that engenders gratitude.

Questions that foster gratitude

These findings suggest that there are opportunities for fostering gratitude in children that many parents have yet to tap. Finding ways to help children more deeply notice what they have received is an important place to start. But helping them make sense of those gifts, through their thoughts and feelings, may be key to experiences of gratitude more specifically. 
How can parents do that? By asking questions. Here are some examples of NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO questions parents may ask children about their gratitude experiences.
NOTICE: What have you been given or what do you already have in your life for which you are grateful? Are there gifts behind the material gifts for which you are grateful, like someone thinking about you or caring about you enough to give you the gift?

THINK: Why do you think you received this gift? Do you think you owe the giver something in return? Do you think you earned the gift because of something you did yourself? Do you think the gift was something the giver had to give you? If you answered no to these questions, then you may be more likely to be grateful.
FEEL: Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What does that feel like inside? What about the gift makes you feel happy? These questions help the child connect their positive feeling to the gifts that they receive in their lives.

DO: Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift? Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share that feeling by giving something to someone else? Prompting children after experiences of gratitude in order to motivate acts of gratitude, whether they be acts of appreciation or paying it forward, may help children connect their experiences and actions in the world.
We think that these types of questions may help children to more deeply receive gifts from others or notice what they already have in the world. In turn, we think that deeply receiving may motivate acts of gratitude toward others. And that will give parents reasons to feel proud of children who not only say thank you unprompted but, more importantly, mean it.

Inspirational Quote – November 22, 2017

“A head full of fears has no space for dreams.”

Of course it doesn’t! However, dismissing our fears, as we are all aware, is occasionally easier said than done. Especially in the dead of night when they seem to be magnified a hundredfold! Scary eh? However, what’s the alternative? There is only so much space in our heads so surely it’s in our own self-interest in working to find solutions to our fears then file them away in our “Expedited” folder. This frees up space for our dreams to move in, set up home and do what they have to in order to come true just for us. Seems a no brainer to me.

Holly Near's Planetary Anthem Dares Us to Be Magical

"I do not separate my music from my heart nor do I separate my ideas from my daily life. I open myself up to learning as much as I can about humanity and this mysterious life experience... Moment by moment, I integrate what I learn into my personal life, personalizing my politics. It is from this personal place that I write my songs." Holly Near is an activist, singer-song writer who uses her voice to remind us that we are truly one. In "Souls are Coming Back," a gorgeous anthem to our planet and those working to save it, Holly leads us on the journey of millenniums - our journey. With each small act, word, touch and thought - she reminds us we co-create our world and lyrically invites us to, "Put in the fantastical, wonderful, magical, add the romantic, the brave and the wild."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Inspirational Quote – November 21, 2017

“Guilt is to the Spirit what pain is to the Body.”

I know we can all relate to suffering physical pain at some time in our lives. Whether mild or severe it still has an impact on how we cope or don’t cope with its effects. Fortunately, however, there are numerous remedies readily available we can apply in order to find relief. It’s a pity the same can’t be said when we seek relief from the guilt which we may be allowing to affect our spirit. I say “allowing” because, unlike pain which strikes due to a physical ailment, guilt is of our own making. We have the power to dismiss guilt, refuse it a foothold, and deflect it just by our own thoughts, so why on earth would we give it power over us by recognizing it? Consign it to the great cosmic waste basket where it belongs and your spirit will flourish and prosper as it should with nothing to hinder it. Sounds like a good plan doesn’t it?

Overcoming Stress By Seeing Other People's Joy

Often, empathetic people build up emotional barriers to prevent stress and burnout from their interactions from others. However, Kelly McGonigal believes in the opposite. In the article, Kelly discusses the reasons to double down on positive empathy and provides ways for you to foster joy to combat stress.