It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment… Naomi Williams
How was your child’s day?
Worrywart Wallace noticed that by 5:30 pm, it was already dark. He was sure his parents would make him go to bed early.
Picked-on Pamela noticed that Mrs. Clark gave her the “mean look” three times today. Mrs. Clark made her miserable every day.
Gloomy Greg noticed it was another boring day. It was snowing so badly that he couldn’t even go sledding.
But Grateful Giselle had a great day! Mother made her favorite chocolate chip cookies. It was Music Day at school, and she got to sing Thanksgiving songs. And the snow was so beautiful-a snowflake had landed on her finger, and she noticed it had six sparkly spikes.
What gets your child’s attention?
There are so many things going on, how does one’s brain decide which one to pay attention to? Psychologists would say that “attention bias”-or attention “habits” makes choosing what to focus on something we don’t even have to think about. Our habits of attention make us “specialists” in noticing whatever we are inclined to notice-whether it is the threats, the disappointments, or the fun and interesting that we encounter every day. It is not what happens that determines how our day goes, but what we notice and think about that makes or breaks a day. Life is experienced subjectively, from what happens inside, rather than what happens outside.
What kind of world do you want your child to inherit?
If you want your child to inherit a great world, teach them to pay attention to great things. Call their attention to how they enjoyed playing with their friends today, the appetizing smell of fresh cookies, or the snuggly feeling of their favorite blanket. Train them to have a sharp awareness of all the things around them that bring comfort and delight. And how even challenging times can provide pleasure through invigorating work and mental mastery. In short, teach them to pay attention to things for which they can be grateful.
How can I teach gratitude?
Karen Reivich (National Association of School Psychologists 2009) offers these ideas about how to teach your children gratitude.
1. Make a Grateful Sayings poster. Get a piece of poster board and write on top “For This I am Grateful”. Have family members (and friends and neighbors if desired) write or draw something on the poster for which they are grateful. Ask each person to initial their contribution. Hang it in a conspicuous place, and continue to add to it throughout the month. At the end of the month, take turns reading aloud what was written.
2. Keep a “Good Stuff” journal. Get a notebook or journal for your child. Every night, set aside a few minutes with your child to write down three positive events from the day. Write about what went well, what it meant to the child (and yourself); how the child and you can create circumstances enabling more good things to occur.
Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD, MFT is a free-lance medical journalist specializing in mental health.
Her professional experience has encompassed many facets of mental health care, including mental health assessment and treatment, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse (victims and perpetrators), couples counseling, and adolescent group counseling. For the past five years, Katrina has worked with patients across the country to help them resolve their barriers to adequate and effective mental healthcare and chemical dependency/addiction treatment.
Her writing tells the stories of the patients who used their moxie to overcome their distress.