Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cultivating Gratitude

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” Cicero
by Linda Shaw 

My son was taking his time setting our dinner table. Anxiously, I noticed the absent utensils. I was ready to eat. I wanted to push him to hurry up. But I caught myself.

Politely I thanked him, “Great job at getting the plates set. Thanks for the help.” His countenance changed, his shoulders relaxed, and then he quickened his pace.

Gratitude has long been touted by theologians and philosophers alike, but only recently has it been empirically studied by psychologists. In 2007 a group of positive psychologists conducted the first known study on the effects of gratitude on childhood and adolescents well-being. (Froh, Sefick, Emmons)

Personally I like being appreciated. As a mother, I have long recognized the positive effects of gratitude on my own mood as well as the attitudes of family members. Studies have now shown my instincts are correct.

• Creates “optimism, overall life satisfaction, domain specific satisfaction(happy homes) (Froh, Sefick and Emmons)
• Has proved to be “psychologically beneficial to youth” (Froh and Yorkowicz).
• “Serves to broaden thought and action repertoires (Fredrickson 2004).
• Helps build “enduring social, intellectual and physical resources” (Fredrickson 2004).
• Leads to goal striving, achievement motivation, and might event buffer against materialism in early and late adolescents. (Bono and Froh)
• Brings positive outcomes of “subjective well-being, relational support, and pro-social behavior.
• May be an effective strategy for children and adolescents with peer difficulties to bolster bonds. (Bono Froh)
• Creates overall appearance  enjoyment for work, energy, optimism, and the likelihood to help or support others (Emmons and Shelton 2002).
• Enhances empathy, humility, perspective and spiritual orientation.
• When expressed in students... helps motivate them to exercise more regularly, feel better about themselves, and have fewer physical ailment symptoms.
• Contributed to higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy.. (Emmons and McCullough 2003)
• Creates a relationship to happiness, hope, pride, optimism, positive mood, self-actualization, smooth interpersonal relationships, and a sense of community (Emmons, Shelton 2002)
• May buffer against negative outcomes and psychological maladies. (Masten 2001)

Gratitude obviously has many benefits to both the individual, family and society. But any mother will tell you that the cultivation of gratitude is not as easy as one might believe. Not only are there certain ages when it first appears (ages 6-8) and where it is more prevalent (age 15), but the desire to do good to one’s benefactor solidifies between the ages of 7-10 years, so timely lessons are of great importance.

Also certain negative behaviors such as sense of entitlement, lack of self-reflection, preoccupation with materialism, or the perception of being a passive victim might serve to inhibit a child’s growth of gratitude. Indeed, “gratitude must be practiced and cultivated ” (Lyubomirsky 2005 Miller and Nickleson) and must be “developed with sustained focus and effort.” (Emmons and Shelton)

Psychologist must measure the growth of gratitude within the controlled walls of a school classroom. But parents can measure the growth of their families gratitude within the walls of their own home.
A few Gratitude Ideas:

• Have children write in a gratitude journal a couple times a week. Studies have shown that daily journaling is not as productive as bi-weekly.
• Have family members write short notes of appreciation either in a book, whiteboard, chalkboard, or large sheet of paper.
• When speaking to one another try to teach the habit of giving thanks before asking for something.
• When anxiety is high remember to look for things to be grateful for.
• When an argument or disagreement breaks out try solving it by having each family member list at least 5 things grateful things about the person they are angry with.
• Have a gratitude wall where children display artwork, poetry, awards, and sentiments.
• Create a family ritual (handshake or hug) that symbolizes gratitude for one another.
• Create or identify a family song that can be sung when grateful.
• Fill a jar with beans to represent gratitude shown. When the jar is full enjoy a planned family fun activity.
  •  Have children trace their hands and within each finger write one thing they are grateful for.  
  • Have teens practice gratitude through service. 
  • Play an eye spy game that each participant must identify an object or person they are grateful for. 

Gratitude teaches us to focus on less materialistic things and see happiness where we might not have seen it before. Gratitude brings happiness and happy families are grateful families.

Froh, J. J., Miller, D. N., & *Snyder, S. (2007). Gratitude in children and adolescents: Development, assessment, and school-based intervention. School Psychology Forum, 2, 1-13.

Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008).Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 213-233

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