Teaching Your Little Ones The Art of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~ William Arthur Ward

Thanksgiving (and the month of November in general) is a great time to focus on gratitude. The added emphasis on being “blessed” certainly inspires all of us to consider our bounty and offer thanks. It is a time of gratitude lists, service, and gifts. I want to focus on how you can get your children involved and inspire gratitude in their hearts!

By age two or three, children are able to talk about being thankful for specific objects, pets, and people. By age four, children are able to understand the concept of being thankful for immaterial things like acts of kindness, love, and caring. Regardless of how old your children are, you can always teach age-appropriate gratitude! The following are ideas you can implement around the holiday season and throughout the year to foster an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Say please and thank you. Our manners show that we do not believe we are entitled to anything and that we are grateful for the kindness of others.
  2. Help someone less fortunate. This could be your neighbor down the street, grandma, or someone you know who is in a tough spot. I have fond childhood memories of taking meals or gifts to members of my church who needed help. 
  3. Model the adage “Tis’ better to give than to receive.” Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store and challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. Or go the DIY route and make something; even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others!
  4. Volunteer service or donate to a nonprofit. Nonprofits serve people in need and at this time of the year they are always looking for volunteers, basic necessities, meals and gifts to give to those in need. Help out at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or non-profit. 
  5. Send out thank you cards or a letter. Express your gratitude for those who have served your or added value to your life. Encourage your children to write a letter to someone who has touched his life in some way or who has given them something. I highly recommend keeping thank you notes on hand and using them frequently!
  6. Intentionally look for awe-inspiring moments in your day. If the sunset is particularly beautiful, comment on it. If the sound of the baby’s laughter warms your heart, tell your children. Encourage them to look for their awe-inspiring moments and share them with you.
  7. Share your gratitude. There are a million different ways to do this; you can take five minutes at bedtime by asking your children what they are thankful for that day. You can go around the dinner table and allow each family member a chance to vocalize their gratitude. You can keep shared or personal gratitude journals. You can create a family gratitude list and post it somewhere visible. You can create a gratitude jar and share each entry at the end of the month. I even saw one idea of gratitude trees–where little leaves are written on with things the family is grateful for, and then hung from the twigs of a branch found outside. (This doubles as decór so win-win!)
  8. Compliment others. I heard a wise woman once say that withholding a compliment is prideful, so model sincere compliments. If you think it, say it! Share the things you appreciate about another person. Encourage your children to do the same. 
  9. Look for the positive. It is human nature to see the glass half-empty from time to time, and children are no exception.  Try to look for the silver lining; find something positive in frustrating situations and discuss it. When kids complain or gripe, it can be helpful to try to find a response that looks on the bright(er) side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason — it’s about perspective more than circumstance. 
  10. Take gratitude walks. While you walk, look for the simple pleasures in the day, such as the warm sun or the birds singing and express appreciation for them. Use this time to ask your kids what they are grateful for.
  11. Work through envy. Help your child work through any feelings of jealousy she may have. Envy can come when we are not feeling thankful for what we have, and are focusing instead on what others have. Easy access to social media surely contributes to feelings of jealousy and comparison!
  12. Have them pitch in when they want something.  When children take the time to save up and take ownership in a purchase, they gain an understanding of the value of a dollar by working toward what they want. It also teaches restraint and encourages them to appreciate what they have.
  13. Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime where they need to fit in homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. Without chores, children do not understand what it takes to run a household–they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. So find age-appropriate chores for your children. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, but allow your children to be grateful for the blessing of clean dishes or warm meals enjoyed in your home. 
  14. Let big kids take care of little kids: Surely you did not understand all the work that came with children until you had your own. If older children have responsibilities for their younger siblings, it fosters an attitude of gratitude towards you, their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework. 
  15. Talk about your ancestors: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My grandmother lived in the depression and to this day she reuses her plastic baggies and counts her pennies. I remember hearing stories of this amazing woman and feeling so grateful for the box of endless ziplocs. It really is the little things! (If you are not sure of your past, you can take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful!)

Studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. Being grateful benefits adults and children alike on a very basic level and can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent! It can help you live a happier, more satisfied life and with increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy and optimism. It also grants perspective to what really matters and improves relationships. There is no downside to gratitude!

Now it is my turn to be grateful: I am grateful for my health, my family, and a career I love. I am grateful for you, my faithful readers, and for such wonderful clients who trust me with the deepest, most vulnerable and beautiful parts of their lives. I am thankful I am allowed to live the life I love in helping people work through addiction, trauma, mental illness, and/or relationship issues. I am thankful for YOU. I am your biggest advocate! As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or to schedule a session. Let’s talk!
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Positive Influence of Affirmations

 

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” The way you talk to yourself can determine how you live. Incorporating positive affirmations into your daily walk and talk can profoundly influence the course of your life!

Do you realize how much you talk to yourself? You may be driving alone in your car, thinking about an interaction with a friend, and think, “I was stupid to say that”; or maybe you are looking in the mirror before a date and say, “I wish I felt more attractive.” Affirmations are sentences aimed to affect the conscious and the subconscious mind.  Every word we say to ourselves is an affirmation–the sad truth is that the majority of things we say to ourselves is negative. We focus on what we cannot do, what we are not, and what we do not look like. It is incredibly easy to get down on ourselves and practice negative self-talk. After all, we are our worst critics!

How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Can you imagine saying half of the things you say to the mirror to your child or your partner? Never! How we perceive and talk about ourselves and our situations set the precedent for how we live and interact with others. Not only that, a study was done in 2010 at the University of Arizona where researchers found that the power of positive thinking could beat depressive thoughts. By saying positive affirmations, subjects were able to change their thought processes, and some even reported that affirmations were the most influential part of their recovery process! Practicing positive affirmations can help us consciously flip the switch to start being the person we want to become.

Now let’s talk about how we can use our inner dialogue to build–rather than tear down–our self esteem. A positive affirmation is a brief statement, worded in the positive, said with confidence that can help you make significant changes in your life.  Okay so what do you do with these thoughts? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Consider your positive traits or abilities. Like I previously mentioned, we are our worst critics. We are so hard on ourselves; we only see where we lack, what we cannot do, how not skinny or smart we are, etc (especially in this day and age of social media, our negative comparisons are endless!). But you are unlike anyone else; there is only one you in the world. What are you good at? What makes you special? Write a little list of these qualities and make them into “I am…” or “I can”  statements. Examples: I am strong; I can learn new things; I am determined, I am hard-working; I am relentless; I am connected and comfortable in all environments, with all people; I find and enjoy the simple pleasures life is offering right now;
  2. Replace negative self-talk with your personalized affirmations. The moment you start paying attention to your inner-dialogue, you will notice how down on yourself you are. Make a sincere effort to cut out negativity towards yourself and instead build yourself up. Next time you are feeling discouraged thinking, “I will never be able to do that..” or, “I will never be good enough…”, instead say one of your positive affirmations. Examples: My challenges bring opportunities; I love myself and who I am; I love myself unconditionally; I allow only healthy and loving relationships into my life; How I feel matters, therefore I concentrate on aspects of life that make me feel good!; My mood creates a physiological response in my body. I am peaceful and positive!; I am in control of my thoughts and my life.
  3. Rewrite and repeat your affirmations daily. Watch this YouTube video of a father practicing affirmations with his daughter before she goes to school. This is a great example of how to start your day; look yourself in the mirror and build yourself up! Imagine the power that would come to you if you began every day this way! Whether you practice affirmations at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, or all throughout the day, be consistent. You might even consider writing your affirmations down on notecards or post-its scattered throughout your living and working spaces. Seeing these positive statements will only help reinforce and solidify them in your mind.

These three steps are simple: Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. As you begin to think about specific thoughts about your, over and over again, those thoughts will become beliefs and reality. Instead of limiting yourself with demeaning thought processes, make changes today that will enable you to reach your full potential. As you build yourself up, you will see that the small steps of adding positive affirmations into your life will influence you for the better. You will be a happier person, more comfortable in your own skin, and you will see that life is full of opportunities you can handle. After all, that’s the truth!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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