The last few months have challenged us mentally, physically and spiritually. When you made those new year’s resolutions just five months ago, chances are not one involved socially distancing or homeschooling kids. In fact, social distancing, pandemic and coronavirus weren’t even parts of everyday language and COVID-19 was just a series of random letters and numbers.
Fast forward to today and we all strive to adapt. While some people thrive on change, for others, especially children and youth in foster care, these circumstances can feel like just more obstacles to surmount. What if you could change your mindset and rather than fearing the unknown, approach life with feelings of gratitude?
What Is Gratitude?
Gratitude is more than saying thank you when someone helps or bestows a gift. From a psychological perspective, gratitude is not only an action, but an emotion with a biological purpose — to develop deeper appreciation for someone or something for longer lasting positivity. Call it what you like — appreciation, grace, recognition or thankfulness — these feelings have powerful mental and physical health benefits.
How can we help our children channel feelings of disappointment, grief or loss into feelings of gratitude? Gratitude can foster positivity, and with positivity, we can find resilience in ourselves and our loved ones.
What Are the Benefits of Practicing Gratitude?
While there are many health benefits to feeling gratitude, here are SAFY’s top 10 favorite:
- Increases happiness and self esteem
- Improves relationships (from family and friends to romantic partners)
- Enhances optimism
- Lessens feelings of materialism by learning to appreciate what you already have
- Helps people find meaning and purpose in daily life
- Reduces stress and feelings of depression
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves sleep
- Enhances overall physical and mental health
- Makes people more forgiving, generous and compassionate
How Do We Learn to Express Gratitude?
Learning to express gratitude is an ongoing process. That’s why is often referred as “practicing” gratitude. Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, recently launched the Growing Our Gratitude initiative. People are invited to request free seed packets and download accompanying guides and worksheets to talk about gratitude and the importance of daily practice. By requesting the seeds and watching them grow, the activity helps us visualize our gratitude, show appreciation and be thankful. These tips to help teach children about mental health and gratitude during this unprecedented time in our lives.
Gratitude by the Ages
Perhaps one of the biggest triggers of sadness during the pandemic is time away from friends and teachers at school. The daily structure, meals and social interaction are vital to many children who don’t have that same sense of stability at home.
For young children preschool age and younger, learning how to be generous is a great way to teach gratitude. From helping out around the house to donating a toy or piece of outgrown clothing to someone in need, we teach from an early age that helping others benefits everyone. Model this behavior for them by saying thank you and sharing positive things about your day.
For elementary-aged children, help children focus on what strengths they possess that can help others, and things they have that money can’t buy. Prompt them to think about a person, place and thing they are thankful for. Remind them to always say thank you, and to appreciate the things they have. For children who are missing their teachers at school, help them show gratitude to their teachers by writing thank you notes or posting a thank you video.
Middle and high school students can be a tricky group. My 8th grader has struggled with missing out on so many milestones this year. In our home, we’ve encouraged the kids to focus on all the things that have made this transition to home school learning easier for them. From access to a computer to online resources and email that makes resources more readily available, it’s been a challenge to focus on the haves versus the have-nots. Video conferencing or chatting with friends and other family also has helped to alleviate the long periods of isolation in our home. Keeping a gratitude journal or simple random acts of kindness also model gratitude. Community service projects, from picking up litter in your neighborhood to delivering supplies to those in need, also help older youth learn to recognize what is important and what to be grateful for.
At SAFY, we are grateful for the foster parents, teachers, advocates, child welfare professionals, social workers, recruiters, family members and mentors who help in our Mission of Preserving Families and Securing Futures.