Having an attitude of gratitude

Teaching kids to practice gratitude will set them up for a happier adulthood

I recently asked my 4-year-old daughter what she is thankful for. Her answer: “Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and Lalaloopsie.” Ahem … What about Mommy and Daddy?

I posed the same question to my 15-year-old cousin, and her answer was slightly more sophisticated: “Family, friends, education, food, lol!” I’m glad she found my inquiry amusing and I’m also glad that perhaps when my girls are teens, “family” might trump My Little Ponies.

Practicing gratitude with your children starting at an early age can build their resiliency and promote happiness. Isn’t that what we all want — for our kids to be happy? That and to do well in school, be the best at sports and win the spelling bee.

Kids and teens face many daily stresses. I frequently work with high school students in our community and what I hear over and over is that they are stressed by academic pressures, extracurricular activities and family issues. They don’t get enough sleep, and one in five experience bullying.

These are a lot to handle for anyone, especially teens. As parents, we can’t always take away the stress. What we can do is teach and model positive coping strategies that will equip our kids with lifelong skills to manage stress and promote well-being. Practicing gratitude reminds us to focus on what’s good in our lives.

Happiness expert Christine Carter recommends a daily gratitude practice for the whole family. Simply ask each family member to name three good things that happened that day. This can be done in the morning, during dinner conversation, on the car ride to school or as a bedtime ritual.

Carter points out that studies show positive outcomes from consciously practicing gratitude. In her own family, she noticed her kids become kinder, more appreciative, more enthusiastic and just generally happier.

As with any new behavior, introducing a gratitude ritual is a skill that requires practice. Make it a commitment and remind your family with visual cues to say thanks! And now it’s my turn: Today I am thankful for health — my children’s health, my own health and the health and well-being of my family members, co-workers, friends and community.