As soon as November begins, I find myself automatically thinking about Thanksgiving, and gratitude. However, I think of gratitude on more days than not, across the span of the year. I have so much to be thankful for, and now more than ever!
This last year has been an incredible one for me! I was in a wheelchair for 17 years, and over the course of the past sixteen months, I’ve gone from a sitting position, to swimming, riding a bike, and in the last three months, competing in 5k walks! It is nothing short of miraculous! I did my 2nd 5k walk yesterday. In two weeks, I’m ratcheting this up to a 10k!
Also, in 2011, I had gastric bypass surgery (weight loss), and have lost a stunning 134 pounds! This put my diabetes in remission, got me from 8 medications down to 1, and eliminated my sleep apnea! I’m in awe of my new mobility, and love to exercise it, and me!
What does my story have to do with parenting? Well, it is about gratitude. I know every single day, how blessed I am to be out of the wheelchair and healthy. I know what a tremendous gift this is! For me, it is my relationship with God that ultimately healed my spirit, and then my body.
What are you grateful for? Do you share your appreciation of life with your children? How better to inspire them to be grateful, than to express your gratitude with them, regularly? Doing so, you model gratitude for your kids. It is a habit you can practice, and they will likely imitate you.
Gratitude does not require everything in your life to be going well either. It is about selecting the parts of your struggles that you are happy aren’t worse, and recognizing pieces that are improving with time. Doing this will inevitably help your own emotional well-being too, and show your kids how to dissect a difficulty to find the positive in it. This helps everyone be more resilient when hard things happen in your lives.
Appreciative words can be said in whispers and coos to babies; shared in moments with toddlers; talked about with pre-schoolers (like having a daily ritual of sharing the best parts of the day); and can get more complex with older children. With little ones, it can be as easy as asking what they liked best about the day. This is a great time to share how their being in your life enriches you, no matter how old your child is! For instance, Benjamin Bear’s mother could say, “Benjamin, I just love your smile, and you make me smile every day, both with my mouth and my heart!”
With older kids, gratitude can begin evolving discussions about where these gifts and blessings come from, according to your own faith or belief system. The shared nuggets of gratefulness can feed into all kinds of wonderful discussions, and even action, such as volunteering in the community. Adapt the discussion or ritual to the age and comprehension of your child.
Sharing appreciation and gratitude for all you have, is helpful to your child in so many ways. Here are some examples. It helps them:
- Focus on positive aspects of their lives.
- Connect to you in positive ways, and promotes bonding.
- Understand where you are coming from, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. (even if they don’t understand these levels of being yet).
- Prepares them for a bigger spiritual life.
- Connect emotionally to the needs of others.
- Feel happier.
- Observe things in their world, and sample the worlds of others.
- Be more prosocial in their environments (school, church, communities). Want to help more because they are realizing how fortunate they are, and seeing others don’t always have it as easy.
- Experience nature, seeing the beauty in creation, and knowing the best things in life are free (smiles, hugs, rainbows, etc.)
- Talking such things over, helps verbal expressions, and leads to higher levels of thinking.
Practicing gratitude, even keeping a journal of what you’re grateful for, not only helps you model it to your children, it helps you keep positive and feel more content and peaceful, even if you’re experiencing difficulties.