November has become the month of “Gratitude Challenges” in the social media world as we approach the less glamorous, sometimes forgotten, holiday of Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ve seen friends and family posting about their daily gratitudes already. People post about things both large and small that they are thankful for in their life. This is an amazing and wonderful idea, but I am here to explain why I think you should incorporate a gratitude challenge into your daily family life.
The benefits of a gratitude practice for both adults and children has scientifically been proven to alter your brain and the way you approach life. It’s amazing that such a little thing can make such an enormous difference in your life and the way you experience life. By incorporating a gratitude practice into your family life, you can change the way your family members use their brains. Gratitude can boost the logical thinking skills, decision-making areas, and the memory center of your brain. When all of those areas are strong we are able to think better, quicker, more rationally, and retain information. Wouldn’t we all like that for our family? This can be achieved with very little time commitment and consistent practice.
When we practice gratitude, the electrical firings in the brain light up and communicate with each other. They release hormones (neurotransmitters) called oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone that makes us feel safe and secure and recognizes that our needs have been met. Dopamine is our reward system that boosts optimism, stabilizes our moods, and helps us to successfully achieve our goals. Serotonin is the happy hormone that reduces stress and anxiety and helps us to look at life as a challenge we can overcome instead of something overwhelming. Increased levels of serotonin make us feel happy on the inside.
Science tells us that people who practice gratitude regularly increase their immune system function, heart health, longevity, resiliency, and relationship skills. As if those weren’t enough, this practice also has other positive benefits such as a direct result of boosting your immune system; you exercise more, sleep better, make healthier choices, and reduce anxiety levels. This boost results in you getting sick less often. If nothing else, getting sick less often makes it all worth it!
When working with children, we want them to experience the feeling of being grateful. In order to replicate feelings of gratitude, we need to teach them how to think gratefully. Thinking gratefully will help your child to celebrate the present moments.
There are many ways to implement a gratitude practice in your own home with children of all ages. If your children are older, journaling or listing things they are grateful for can be a nice way to start. A family journal might be more appropriate for families with younger children and you can read back some of your favorite gratitudes on New Year’s Eve every year when you flip through the journal.
Children of all ages benefit from a dinner-time gratitude practice. While having dinner, have each family member share three things that they are grateful for that may have happened that day. This is a pain-free, material-free way of making gratitude and family dinner time work together. Children begin to look for the positive events that happened in their day and become excited to share them with the family.
In my classroom, we have a gratitude jar that collects “thank you” beans. If a child hears or uses a thank you, they may put a bean in the jar. When the jar is full we celebrate with a reward (dance party, extra recess, etc.)! You can implement a gratitude jar at your house. This will tune your family’s ears to listen and eyes to look for thanks in your daily life.
Why not try a family gratitude walk to find items everyone is thankful for, such as a colorful leaf, spotting a ladybug or a hummingbird, beautiful cloud formations, chirping birds, flowers, neighbors waving hello, or community members sharing a smile. If you need more ideas, try this gratitude scavenger hunt with your family.
As we head into the holiday season and new year, create a new routine to boost your family’s brains with a gratitude superpower practice and watch your family thrive.
Kristin Schmoke is a recent addition to the Gooden School family, but not new to education. Kristin has been working, in some capacity, with children aged 2 ½ to college students for more than 20 years. Wherever she goes, she is drawn to children of all ages, from coaching to teaching, to parenting classes, Kristin is a perpetual student when it comes to child development. She and her husband, with their four kids, originate from Michigan but have lived in Pasadena for 14 years. Kristin holds a master’s degree in education from Grand Valley State University, a bachelor's degree in elementary education and teaching from Hillsdale College, and is a certified health and life coach. Aside from child development and education, Kristin enjoys spending time with her family, reading, cooking, crafting, talking about Michigan, and exercising.
Gooden’s Culture of Giving and Gratitude
“When you were born, there was a new person for your family to love and care for…and because of you there is one more person who can love and care for others.” - Because of You; B.G. Hennessy
Already early in this school year, I have been inspired by pictures of Gooden students chalking for peace with their buddies, celebrating their pets and raising funds for the Humane Society, planting and tending to vegetables and herbs, caring for the chickens, and gathering the eggs for Friends In Deed.
Community engagement and service are vital parts of The Gooden School’s mission, our history, and our Episcopal tradition. They are embedded within our curriculum, and are the foundation around which all of our inquiry-based learning comes to life. You can find it in the diverse reading lists of our English courses, in the syllabi of our social studies courses, in the conversations that emerge in our classes around STEAM, theater and music, in Faith & Ethics, elective and Advisory classes, and especially in our chapel services.
At Gooden, students learn in community and individually about their own gifts and struggles in direct relation to their peers so that understanding emerges with immediate, transformative force. Above all, the Gooden experience inspires our generous and courageous students to enter the world with ambition, gratitude and the determination to participate boldly and give back whole-heartedly.
As we all know too well, students also learn by example. At Gooden, students' experiences are enriched by parents, faculty, staff, alumni and a board who are committed to The Gooden School's values and mission, and also to being cultural leaders as demonstrated by hours of volunteerism, professional expertise, commitment to our mission, and philanthropic generosity. On any given day at Gooden, alumni who visit, whether they are doctors, artists, entrepreneurs, college or high school students, all mention how much they’ve missed the sense of joy and generosity that is Gooden, and how prepared they were for the rigors of higher education and life!
Our students come to understand that such leadership and generosity spring from joy and gratitude and an inherent and shared responsibility for improving communities and the world. Thank you for your leadership and generous sharing of gifts with the Gooden community. Your contributions make a lasting difference in shaping our leaders of tomorrow!
Cathy Heflin is the chair of the board of trustees at The Gooden School. She is also co-founder of the Gooden strings program. She works as a senior wealth strategist at UBS and brings more than 20 years of finance and nonprofit experience to the board. Cathy is also a member of the Guild of Cancer Support Community and a co-founder of the Flintridge Preparatory internship program. Her daughters Anna and Sophia graduated from Gooden (classes of 2007 and 2010, respectively.) Anna graduated from Westridge School, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has a master's degree in viola performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Sophia attended Flintridge Preparatory School followed by Indiana University, Bloomington.
Zuckerberg : Jobs :: Jobs : Buffett
What is the underlying relational analogy here? No, this isn’t an SAT analogies example, but it could be! I’m talking about mentorship.
Mentorship is en vogue. From prominent business leaders to pop stars, supportive guidance of junior figures by their seniors across endeavors has benefited from a rebranding. However, this concept is far from novel. Trade apprenticeships and medical residencies are just a few examples reflecting the wide swath of professions that have formalized the mentorship relationship as a mandatory element of professional development. Within the social-emotional realm, programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and “Littles”, and “Bigs” within Greek systems across college campuses are long-standing institutions of mentorship.
I’ve personally benefited in a multitude of ways from numerous mentorship relationships. Several stand out as particularly impactful. Among those who have mentored me include my two older sisters and their tribes of friends, a graduate school professor, and many fellow parents who suffer through the rantings and unending questions of a “child expert.” Those whom I’ve had the privilege of mentoring include a student I saw all the way from undergraduate through graduate school and the launch of an NGO, students and supervisees, and more than a few local teens. I am wiser and enjoy a richer life now because of my mentors and my mentees.
At Gooden, we facilitate mentorship relationships across the age range. Our Buddy Program is a longstanding tradition in which students in upper grades are paired with our little ones for school activities, from chapel to Orchard Day. In turn, Middle School students receive guidance from a selected faculty member in our advisory program. Faculty mentor one another as they gain expertise, and senior administrators seek mentorship from more experienced colleagues. Even our Gooden Family Association has a mentorship component as rising elected officials are guided by those previously in their roles.
The social sciences literature abounds with evidence of the profound impact of mentorship on both parties’ behalves. These include increasing connectedness to family and peers, as well as peer acceptance and self-esteem. As a recent article on mentorship by students noted: “ When students are given the freedom to be better, to work for something bigger than themselves, and to mentor others, they can thrive.”
And parents can help them thrive in this way: rather than simply signing our children up for more engagements, what if we modeled this practice alongside them? As a mentor, we demonstrate the value in investing in others, expand our capacity for empathy, and grow our leadership skills. As a mentee, we demonstrate humility, openness to feedback, and are pushed beyond our comfort zones, while receiving counsel from those more experienced than we. What’s to lose?
Dr. Marguery Lyvers is a licensed clinical psychologist and the school psychologist at The Gooden School. Dr. Lyvers specializes in neuropsychological assessment at her private practice, Lyvers & Associates. Additionally, she is a partner and executive director at Integrated Learning Solutions, overseeing a multidisciplinary team of professionals serving students with diverse learning needs via individually tailored interventions, while simultaneously supporting their families and educators. Dr. Lyvers earned her bachelor’s from California State University, Los Angeles’ Early Entrance Program, followed by her master’s and doctorate from the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University. Dr. Lyvers’ training and experience spans educational, forensic, private, community clinic, and inpatient settings. A Pasadena native, Dr. Lyvers is invested in fostering the development of our young community members by removing barriers to educational and personal success.
Tempus fugit*: It’s Time for School?
“How did that happen already?” For 27 years, that has been the question I have asked at the end of every August as my four children headed out the door and back to school or university. It seems the older our children became, time moved faster, and the summers became shorter! Transitioning from laid-back summer schedules to the tightly-wound schedule of a school year with a multitude of after-school activities can be very stressful for children (and their parents).
Some lucky families have children who appear to acclimate quickly to the change in sleep patterns and the demands of the school day, both physically and mentally. They find their rhythms and adapt. When I ask these parents what they do to make this transition so seamless, they shrug and even look embarrassed. “Not much,” they admit. “He/She’s always been like this.”
Likewise, I know some amazing parents whose children struggle to find their rhythm and comfort levels with school. The parents hold firm boundaries, talk to their children about what to expect, feed them good food, and allow extra time in the morning. Despite doing all of these healthy things, some children still have a tough time.
Obviously, how well our children transition is not necessarily a reflection of what we do as parents. Some children, like some adults, are simply more sensitive to change. A clear example is that each of my children adapted completely differently to transitions and school. One was anxious, vocalized her worries, over-planned and stayed nervous for months, though easily completed homework (without reminders) every evening. Another child, who cared only about connecting to her teacher and kept all her worries bottled up, might have a huge tantrum over something seemingly innocuous. Every night, she needed an adult to guide her to the table and place her homework in front of her. Another one was just fine; he liked his friends, loved his teachers (no matter who) and happily went with the flow. Still another child cared only about friendships and after-school activities that drove her to complete her work and over schedule everything (and everybody) else in her life.
Four children. One family. My spouse and I bring our set of skills to the table, and if logic would follow, each of the children would behave the same way. But no.
Parents, please stop blaming yourselves for every bump in the road. Some children simply need a little more care. Besides making sure that everyone is sleeping and that meals are as organized as they can be, below are some tools from our illustrious teachers for how to help move the summer-to-school transition along more smoothly. Use these suggestions gently and with care. Being forceful, angry, or rough doesn’t work with any humans, especially children.
1. Allow your child (and you) to be grumpy. For many children, summer is so much fun and they are very reticent to let the fun go. They want to meet their teachers and see their friends, but they miss the summer lifestyle. Who hasn’t felt this way? As caregivers, go ahead and allow all of these feelings. Resist the urge to cheerlead and try to persuade the child to feel “happy” or “hopeful.” Just listen, hug, and nod along with the complaints.
2. Allow all routines and rules to feel flexible and easy. A routine is good when it is clear and consistent but also flexible enough to withstand change. And while it may sometimes feel as though you are going into battle, you aren’t. It’s school. And almost nothing (not a routine, not schoolwork, not getting dressed, not taking away technology) is worth destroying your relationship with your child. See past the tantrums and be patient with your child.
3. Don’t be afraid to contact teachers and administrators before school begins. Teachers love a heads-up about children and welcome any tips you have about building a strong connection. This simple connection tool can go a long way toward helping a nervous child feel a little more comfortable with a new experience.
4. Finally, parents: Be sure to get your house in order, both physically and mentally. A little night-before list: Have the lunches packed, have the breakfast table ready, have your own clothes ready to wear for the morning and, as always, have the backpacks and instruments ready by the front door. I also kept extra sweaters and PE clothes in the glove box of my car. Sadly, a cello is not so easy. The 10 minutes spent at night can give enough time to greet your children tenderly in the morning, rather than with commands and demands barked in frustration.
Tempus fugit*! Enjoy your time with your children! Have faith and welcome back to school!
Jo-Anne Woolner is the head of school at Gooden. She has served the school as interim head of school, director of the Middle School, registrar, and teacher of English, social studies, and Latin after originally joining the school community as a parent of four Gooden students. She received her Bachelor of Arts/Science in English from the University of Calgary (Canada) and Master of Arts in medieval history and languages and Master of Philosophy in Catholic Church history from New York University. In addition to teaching at NYU before moving to California, she has been a presenter at regional independent school conferences and has been a volunteer and board member at several community-based nonprofits in Pasadena.