Be grateful. Not because it looks good on a New Year’s resolution board, but because evidence actually suggests that practising gratitude leads to a sense of happiness and well-being. What this translates to is a way to make our kids happier too – by helping them hone their feelings of appreciation for the things in their life.
According to a study published in the international ‘Journal of Happiness Studies’, gratitude and happiness are linked in a mind by age five.
UAE-based Life Coach Danielle Smith says: “Research suggests that gratitude is greatly associated with higher levels of happiness, but also that you cannot feel stressed and grateful at the same time. So apart from feeling happier and thus higher levels of well-being, gratitude also has got health benefits. And when it comes to adults and children, aren't the ones who are grateful just so much more likeable?”
Research suggests that gratitude is greatly associated with higher levels of happiness, but also that you cannot feel stressed and grateful at the same time.
The word ‘gratitude’ comes from the Latin term ‘gratia’ that can mean grace, graciousness, or gratefulness depending on the context. The US-based Harvard Medical School explains on its website: “Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognise that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves.”
One of the best ways to teach a child a habit – because gratitude is a habit – is through modelling the behaviour. As a parent, and therefore role model to a child, it is through doing that you will teach the tiny tots – waxing eloquent in these conditions does little but antagonise.
Indian expat in Dubai Nazia Jawwad has a four-year-old daughter named Samaira. She says: “Some of the small things I do and encourage my little one to do as well are: Thank our house help for basic things like taking her to the toilet, making her meal, etc. Thank the housekeeping staff in the mall washrooms and tell her how they keep the place clean for us to use and so on.”
The list of these small gestures are endless and kids learn what they see, she says. “Another thing is to make them appreciate what they have,” she adds. “I ensure that she is thankful to God and talk to her about kids who aren’t as privileged as her. Whenever we travel home to India I show her kids living on the streets and make her realise how fortunate she is. Every day I get her to think of something new she is thankful for and I think it’s a beautiful exercise.”
Begin in the morning
Aliya Rajah, Life Coach and Neuro-linguistic programming Practitioner who is based in Dubai, says: “Each day is a new start and practising gratitude in the morning is one of the most powerful ways to start your day. We will always have problems and challenges in our lives, but starting the day with gratitude enables us to create a more abundant mindset rather that one of scarcity. By saying thank you for the things we take for granted (i.e. another day of life, a roof over our heads, food) can really put things into perspective and even make us realise how insignificant some of the problems that we create for ourselves are.
Each day is a new start and practising gratitude in the morning is one of the most powerful ways to start your day. We will always have problems and challenges in our lives, but starting the day with gratitude enables us to create a more abundant mindset rather that one of scarcity.
“Practising gratitude is a muscle and the more you say thank you, the more you will find yourself counting your blessings throughout the day. Challenge yourself to spend one minute each morning saying thank you for as many things you can think of for the next week and notice the difference that it makes,” she adds.
Syrian expat and mum of one, Sara Shbib, echoes the sentiment of growing the habit. She says: “I believe that teaching our kids about gratitude should starts from very early age as this is something should grow with them in every step of their life. When your kids feel grateful and thankful for everything they have they will feel happy and this will be reflected in every aspect of their daily life. Gratitude will also teach our kids to be empathetic and kind.
“I always try to show to my son how fortunate he is to have the things that he might take it for granted like for example his very own bed, new shoes, new bag and even going to a nice school. In my opinion practicing good manners in general will always help planting any good virtue or behaviour in our kids.
“Let your kids express their gratitude and ask more questions about how they feel towards the things they own or even the people they exist in their life. Understanding how certain things and people are affecting their daily life will teach them how important and valuable they are to them and how lucky they are to have them. This will make them feel so special and in the same time very grateful.”
Did you know the effect of gratitude on a brain?
The paper ‘The Science of Gratitude’, published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley quotes a study done in 2009 that implies that “experiencing emotions involved in maintaining social values, such as pride and gratitude, activated areas in the mesolimbic and basal forebrain, regions involved in feelings of reward and the formation of social bonds. …A follow-up study found that people who more readily experience gratitude have more grey matter in their right inferior temporal cortex, an area previously linked to interpreting other people’s intentions.”
Tips for cultivating gratitude
Children aged 11 to 13 who are rich in gratitude tend to be happier, more optimistic and with better social skills than those who are appreciation poor, according to a 2008 study published in the international ‘Journal of School Psychology’. Wondering how to inculcate the habit?
Maria Tansey, a UAE-based life coach who works with children, offers the following tips:
Model the behaviour: Children will always copy their parents. So if you want children to show/learn/practice gratitude, it definitely starts with parents.
Amanda Dias, who has two children, says: “Gratitude is such an important value to have and pass on to our kids. Talking about intangibles is never easy with a child. I guess the first form of teaching is through night prayers and as they grow, adding more gratitude through simple activities. We place one thing that we are thankful for each week into a jar. Looking over a month we have a jar filled with so many things we were blessed with. Doing it as a family is so, so important. As children learn best when they see it in action and modelled by us.”
What were you grateful for today? Parents regularly discussing things that they are grateful for during their day is very helpful and will encourage the children to start thinking in the same way. During meal times or at the end of the night, it might be beneficial to talk through the specific things you are most grateful for during the day and encourage the children to share theirs.
The more we *notice* those things the more we will be aware and look out for them during our day - which in turn will lead to greater feelings of positivity and helps to balance any negative aspects, explains Tansey.
Use behaviour to start conversation: One of the easiest ways to become aware of appreciation is to practice some ‘chores’ that might normally be done by someone else ... these can be small tasks that allow a child to understand the time or effort required to do some things.
Some examples of chores for young children:
- Tidying their room
- Doing some other household chores - washing the dishes, vacuuming
- Cleaning the pet kennel or bathing or walking a pet
- Helping to prepare a meal
- Helping to hang washing to dry
- Helping to write a shopping list
- Giving older children a budget for meals or expenses
Change the perspective: Smith adds: “It is very beneficial showing children from a young age to express and feel gratitude, as they learn how to think in a more positive way from a young age, which will lead to more positive, successful and happier adults. Leading by example is a great way, and we also can give them a little help by asking questions such as 'I loved picking you up from school today, what did you love about your day?'. Or at dinner time, often children tend to have the tendency to pick out what they don't like and express that. We can redirect them and asking what they do like about their plate instead. And you will be surprised that children instantly are happier about their food!”
Mandeep Jassal, Behavioural Therapist, Priory Well-being Centre, Dubai, calls for writing things down. She says: “Children can benefit from gratitude by listing three things each morning that they feel thankful, for example, the food they are eating, the warm sunshine, or the lovely books they have. Journaling what one feels grateful for each day in the evening also has its benefits for it means reflecting on the positive. This ultimately leads to more positivity which improves how we feel about ourself and how we interact and feel towards other people.
“Other methods of gratitude are teaching children to say thank you, or perform acts of kindness such as sharing their sweets and toys with their friends.”
Journaling what one feels grateful for each day in the evening also has its benefits for it means reflecting on the positive.
Use a parable to explain: “With kids always never underestimate the power of a good story, it is the perfect way to teaching them about gratitude or any other moral lesson. I often do that with my son regarding so many subjects.
“Make it a fun interesting story with a good message and it shall help maybe planting a seed!” says Shbib.
How much gratitude is too much?
While no one wants to raise an entitled brat – and a few lessons in gratitude will certainly stem that – there’s a fine line between instilling appreciation and kindness and adding exhausting pressure on a young mind. Tansey recalls a fear-addled 15-year-old’s therapy session. “The client came to me because of exam anxieties and for being really unhappy in the school they were in, and was even more distressed because of financial implications they were aware of for failing a subject or moving schools. The child discussed with me the exact costs and also that they were worried about letting their parents down if they didn’t get the best grade.”
“Another client, 14 years old, was also not happy in school and worried about not making friends, but was feeling burdened by the fact that their sibling had learning difficulties and did not feel that *they* should be asking for any help because their parents were pre-occupied with the other sibling ... should one sibling have to be *grateful* for *not* having learning difficulties? Of course I don’t believe this is the intention of the parent - this is just an illustration that children and young adults themselves can take on the feelings and frustrations of the parents,” she adds.
“Children and young adults are very sensitive to what they hear and feel around them and can pick up frustrations and negativity easily ... so be careful of conversations about money, and other things that children may be extra sensitive to,” she cautions.
The bottom line – as with any topic – is a balanced approach. Thank you for reading.
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