Grateful for Gratitude
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.