Generating Gratitude for our Children and Teens this Season
As we look forward to our break for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am reflecting on how I might bring more gratitude into my life and my family’s life. My last responsibility before time off will be attending my son’s parent-advisor conference at school. I feel well-prepared for that meeting thanks to this article Dr. Jenny Woo on How to Have Honest and Productive Dialogues at Parent-Teacher Conferences. If, as she advises, your conversation begins with problems-to-fix, she’ll offer ways to shift the conversation to talk of progress, learning growth, social and emotional well-being and strengths on which to build.
Bringing those reflections into how I manage holiday preparations, I realize there’s more I can do to ruminate less on the details of the meal and the household (problem-fixing!) and more on the gratitude I have for my son and my family. It’s easy to slip into a habit of ruminating on worries but that only produces more of the same (and doesn’t fix anything). Additionally, we are often engaged in trying to get others to reflect and participate. But change starts within particularly with a mindset like gratitude which can serve as a lens through which we view our lives and our loved ones.
So consider with me the benefits of ruminating a bit this season on the gifts, assets, and blessings of the children in your household. I see multiple benefits including:
- a mindful awareness of loved ones and how they contribute to your life;
- An enhanced sense of your own well-being as you not only accept but appreciate your children right where and as they are (not in some imagined successful future state);
- Empathy for their lives, their stress, and their hopes and dreams for the season;
- Presence and really seeing and valuing them for who they are right where they are;
- An opportunity to model for others of what it means to deeply appreciate others in the family; and
- Extended patience, understanding and forgiveness for anything that might go awry (a spilled juice mess at the dinner table?) because of your appreciative thinking.
Though the clock always seems to be ticking with our children and teens, for me, having a teenager in the house has sensitized me to the fact that we have less of a time horizon with him around in our household. How can I make the most of it?
This holiday, I’m going to practice reflecting on gratitude for him, his friends, my niece, our neighbor’s kids and the many children and teens in our lives. Here are some fun ways you can do just that:
- Intentional Presence
It’s no small event in our busy lives when we become intentional about turning off our notifications, putting away our phone and fully becoming present to our child. Though we offer those times as a gift to them, in fact, we feel a benefit ourselves. It enhances our sense of connection and well-being. Take a walk together. Go to the park. Or stay home and draw or paint together or read a book. Consider that these simple moments are more valuable than any stress over making desserts or ironing table linens.
2. The Best of Each Age
Lay out photo albums or pictures from various ages and stages. And let the family stories begin to emerge! Be sure you name the top things you loved about that age. Spend time thinking this through while you are peeling potatoes or cleaning up your home. Share in dialogue about it with your partners or other family members or even keep a notebook or journal out to capture memories. Imagine what you might learn about the appreciations of other family members’ experiences of your child at each age.
3. Follow a passion.
In preschool research and practice, this is called “sharing the focus.”2 Yet focusing on someone’s passion at any age may offer one of the most significant demonstrations of love. Commit a full hour, half day or full day during the break to be mindfully present to learning about a passion of your child or teen. We’ll be spending time setting up a refurbished drum set for our son’s music studio in the basement, our son’s passion. What are your children passionate about? How can you offer the gift of your full attention to show that what’s important to them is important to you.
We are given the gift of a holiday this season that poses the opportunity to center our focus on family and gratitude. This break from school and work can bring us social comfort as we deeply connect with those we love. It can offer emotional support as we focus our mind and energies on appreciating the abundance in our good lives, a feeling that fundamentally alters anxiety and brings us into a more peaceful state. I wish you all these benefits by being intentional about where you focus your mind and energies this Thanksgiving.
Here are some of my favorite books on gratitude!
We are Grateful; Ostaliheliga by Traci Sorrell
Adult Books Nonfiction:
The Power of Showing Up; How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Making Grateful Kids; The Science of Building Character by Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono
Gratitude Works; A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity by Robert A. Emmons
Center on the Developing Child. Five Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.