Gratitude rescues us from the trap of negative thinking and helps us enjoy life more. It is an essential trait for parents to develop in their children as they lead them toward a thriving faith.
Grateful People Are Healthy People
Are grateful people healthier people? Yes! Researchers have consistently found that grateful people tend to be happier, healthier, more optimistic, feel better about themselves and are able to manage stress more effectively when life gets challenging. In fact, grateful people have a higher level of satisfaction in life, including their relationships, work and health. Gratitude is good for a child because it has been found to be the most consistent predictor of well-being.
But science is really only catching up to the truth in God’s Word. Throughout the New Testament we learn that gratitude is clear evidence of a healthy Christian. In Colossians, the apostle Paul describes what our “new self” should look like and states as a foundational discipline to..”be thankful,” (Colossians 3:15). He adds that he is thankful for trials because they help him develop his own personal and spiritual growth! The Psalms are filled with songs of gratitude.
As a parent, I always loved my kids, but I wasn’t always thankful for the lack of sleep and other things associated with being a dad. It can sometimes seem that kids are constantly sick and in need and it’s exhausting. I can remember thinking, “how could single parents even survive this?”
When my kids are sleeping or we’re cuddling or playing, gratitude is easy and a helpful reset. The difficulty comes when I’m tired and stressed and my patience is in short supply. Gratitude is truly a discipline, especially when your brain doesn’t feel like going there with you. It’s a lot like going to the gym when the rest of you says, “whaaaaaat?”.
Parents Can Encourage Gratitude in The Home
Like most parents, I don’t have a perfect track record in this trait, but I strive to be grateful as much as possible. There are some parents that are more natural than others at this trait and some days that are easier than others. Parents can encourage the development of gratitude in their children by trying some of these ideas:
- Look at pictures you’ve taken and look for things to be thankful for as the moment is frozen in time
- Write out your thoughts of gratitude in a journal so that you can reference them when you’re feeling a “bit off”.
- Pause to look at what is in front of you with gratitude.
- Tell someone you are thankful for them over the phone or through a note.
- Take a deep breath and on the breath coming out, take time to carefully look around you with an infusion of gratitude. Think about why expressing gratitude is good.
- Read a Psalm or two and reflect on God’s power, strength, gifts, and presence in your life. It says in Psalm 16:11 that,” …in His presence there is fullness of joy; at your (His) right hand are pleasures evermore.”
As a parent, I notice that my kids’ faces light up when I tell them I am grateful for them or that I’m thankful for a contribution they make to our family. I have also noticed that they complain more when I complain and are more likely to say something they are thankful for when my wife or I talk about things we are thankful for.
Listen, Empathize and Express Gratitude
In the morning, if my daughter is dreading something about the school day, I try to attentively listen and join her for a moment in how she is looking at the day. Once I get her angle on the day and help her see I’m in there looking with her, I try to shift her focus by talking about something about her that I appreciate. I try to bring her into my angle for a little while. Gratitude is good because it helps us shift away from the spiraling trap of negative thinking. We enter a world we may be missing because of a narrow focus. It can provide a much needed, bigger perspective to understand difficult moments and/or situations.
Gratitude is Good: Benefit #1
HUMILITY AND RESPECT
Have you ever met a humble person? He listens and expresses gratitude for what he’s been given and who he is with. Humility is foundational to developing relationships and connection with others. Gratitude develops the ability for kids to truly see and respect others. Then, they can take the time to appreciate rather than demand things from them.
God says he is near to the humble and opposes the proud. Parents can encourage the development of humility via teaching gratitude. This leaves room for a child’s attitude and perspective to be infused with His heart and perspective on things, life and others. This humility and respect in a child helps her to appreciate the good and the bad in her life as she develops a resilient attitude and perspective toward life.
Gratitude is Good: Benefit #2
ATTITUDE AND PERSPECTIVE
Since genuine gratitude teaches kids to be respectful and humble, they are less entitled and more able to recognize the truth that their lives are filled with gifts, blessings and privileges. Attitude and perspective are the builders of reality for the person owning them. Gratitude is good as it provides a reality that encourages enjoyment of what is given by God.
I recently met with a young man who was facing amputation of his leg, because of a severe car accident combined with a drug addiction that was preventing him from healing. His adoptive mother has taught him throughout his development about the benefits of gratitude, especially when times got difficult. This young man has shifted from needing escapes and feeling angry about many things in his life to gratitude for the people who care about him. He now realizes how much worse his life could be, and he has begun to find freedom in his own mind. He allows himself to enjoy life instead of demanding it be different or that life owes him something. His mom consistently models gratitude and shows patience as it takes root in her adopted son’s life. It would have been ideal for him to be grateful right away as a young boy, but he had his own journey to live.
Cultivating and Modeling Benefit #2
Gratitude can free your child’s mind from getting stuck on what is lost or not gained and shift it to focus on possibilities and an inventory of what he or she has. Meeting God is all about anticipation, wonder and excitement about what He is doing and where His story leads and the part you play.
Kids learn how to pay attention to what is helpful for maintaining joy, awe, pursuit, satisfaction, connection and a positive and hopeful outlook.
James Oppenheim famously said, “A foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.” Your kids get to learn how to see beyond what they may see in the moment and learn to grasp what is already there for them to enjoy.
Parents encourage development of gratitude in their children by modeling it. You might want to take some time for a mind reset with your child. Compete against each other to see who can come up with the most things you are thankful for, especially on a day that seems to be going in the wrong direction. Take a moment of pause to help strengthen your mind as it tries to manage things that were not expected and are not your favorite.
Gratitude is Good: Benefit #3
Kids need to learn to be happy with what they have rather than to be thirsty for the next thing or moment. Of course, kids are still kids. But parents can encourage their children to be at peace with their circumstances. Gratitude is good because an environment of thankfulness is able to bring kids back to peace with God. It is essentially a reset button for their mind that is so easily swayed. Feelings, perceptions, interpretations, hurts and experiences children go through each day can lead kids to feel restless. My favorite verse is found in Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV)
3 You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
These verses show how trust in God provides a peaceful mind
Gratitude is Good: Benefit #4
FLEXIBILITY OF THOUGHT
Gratitude allows for the mind to be okay with the unexpected and to not demand things be a certain way. Parents, encourage flexibility of thought in your children by teaching gratitude. It will help their minds adjust to what is happening and make room for wisdom.
Gratitude will give your kids the flexibility in their minds to see the good in the bad and to accept that bad might happen, but is not permanent. In other words, it will help them see the possibility of something good coming out of something bad. It will also allow them to see difficult circumstances as opportunities to grow, rather than horrible problems that must be avoided.
Gratitude is good and it is truly a journey of growth and learning. That is what makes it easy and difficult all at the same time. It’s like so many things in life- beneficial yet difficult—and it truly feels good after you do it.
Copyright © 2019 by Focus on the Family
DANNY HUERTA, PSYD, MSW, LCSW, LSSW