Without a doubt, there are many benefits to expressing gratitude. Historically, November is the time of year we take stock of what we are grateful for and give thanks. However, this may be challenging this year. Between the pandemic and social unrest, our focus may be more on feelings of frustration, disappointment, and loss. These could be big losses, such as the death of a loved one, economic hardship or racial disparity. Or, smaller, but cumulative losses of human interaction. Such as celebrations of holidays, birthdays, graduations, and more. With so many of us missing our “pre-pandemic lives”, we must challenge ourselves to maintain a sense of gratitude for our mental and emotional well-being.
When gratitude is truly felt and sincerely expressed, studies show that there are numerous social-emotional benefits.
- Gratitude improves individual well-being. Focusing on the positive helps you feel more optimistic and is correlated with increased physical activity and fewer doctor visits. (Evans & McCollough, 2015). It can improve sleep, decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, and lower inflammation rates.
- Gratitude boosts happiness. This is true for both the person conveying it, as well as the person receiving it (Seligman). Gratitude activates one of the neurochemicals, dopamine, a pleasure hormone. This influences our emotional experiences and responses.
- Gratitude strengthens relationships. Studies show that expressing our appreciation to others lays a positive framework for working through differences.
Ways to Teach and Practice Gratitude as a Family
Recognizing our feelings of loss, disappointment, grief remain important during this time. But we can create balance by focusing on positive parts of our lives, both at home and in the classroom. By opening ourselves to the physical and emotional benefits of gratitude, we create resilient kids and families. Here are some ideas.
Read Books That Include Gratitude
Focus on what the characters feel grateful about. Are there other things they can express gratitude for? Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud is a favorite within our Social Bridges Curriculum. The related website, https://bucketfillers101.com/ has many free resources and ideas to reinforce the concept of “bucket-filling”. Our group facilitators also love Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes. Want more options? Here’s a list from HuffPost of 17 Children’s Books That Teach Kids Gratitude
Blend Gratitude with Mindfulness
Mindfulness and meditation have countless physical and emotional benefits. Mindfulness means being present in the moment, without judgement. As a twist, focus on specific things you are are grateful for, like connecting with a friend, or snuggling with your pet.
Model Gratitude with Words and Actions
Help your child recognize feelings of gratitude by including the word in their emotional literacy vocabulary. “I am grateful that you played a game with me.” Or “I am grateful that you called or texted to say hello.” Make it a family goal to verbally let others know how they make a positive difference in your life. Doing so will create a positive habit. Gratitude will be the norm, not the exception.
Weave Gratitude into Daily Routine
Create a family gratitude jar. During dinner, everyone contributes one positive thing happening in their life. These are written down on a slip of paper and placed in the jar. Empty the jar and read all the beautiful moments of gratitude out loud as a family on New Years Eve. Or, build gratitude practice into bedtime routines. Give your child three pebbles or pennies and have them “count out” three specific things they are grateful for.
Teaching Gratitude In the Classroom
Teachers have ongoing opportunities to help children learn and practice gratitude. As discussed in our previous post on School-Based Social-Emotional Learning, working on social skills in the classroom is essential for teaching the whole child. If you are an educator, read on for ways to incorporate the benefits of gratitude within your classroom.
- Morning Meeting – Start the day off on a positive note by incorporating gratitude concepts.
- Teachable moments – Weave gratitude into discussions of literature, history and current events
- Classroom Gratitude Jar – Create a classroom jar or bulletin board where students can publicly or privately share their gratitude or appreciation
For more ideas for specific social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons focusing on gratitude, visit inspiredstudents.org
Article Written by Carol Miller, LCSW. Edited by Danielle Bentz, MA. Photo by Gabrielle Henderson