Gratitude doesn’t have to be just a feel-good thing you do on Thanksgiving or when celebrating a special occasion. Developing a regular gratitude practice can help your mental outlook become more positive and transform the way you move through your days. “Expressing gratitude can positively change your brain,” says Kristin Francis, MD, a psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “It boosts dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters in the brain that improve your mood immediately, giving you those positive feelings of pleasure, happiness, and well-being.” Even better, you can engage the kids you care for in a gratitude practice and enjoy it together. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Ask a gratitude question at a regular time of day. A simple “What are you grateful for today?” at lunch is the perfect way to get started. You can also interchange the idea of gratitude with happiness and appreciation, so you could also ask “What was the happiest part of your day?” or “Tell me what you appreciate about someone in your life?” Remember, you’re participating in developing the gratitude practice so share your answers with the kids.
2. Randomly share what you’re grateful for as you move throughout your day. Maybe you’re grateful you made it across the street before the 25-minute train came by, or maybe you’re grateful for the sprinkler on a hot summer day. Perhaps you’re grateful a good friend is in town and you get to catch up. Whatever it is, share it out loud with the kids. Through modeling, some kids will start doing it on their own. For those that don’t, you can play a version of “Freeze!” where kids freeze in place and only get released by sharing a gratitude. Kids love when they get to be in charge of the freeze, too (though you might want to limit the number of times they can call it).
3. Keep an “appreciations wall.” This activity is focused on telling the people in your life how much you appreciate them. It doesn’t matter if you have one kid or ten, all kids have things they appreciate about their care mates, siblings, parents, or you. An appreciations wall is the perfect place for kids to record them. Encourage them to add something to the wall whenever they think of it, but also have a designated time (like before lunch or after nap) once or twice a week to add appreciations. It could be something about a person – e.g. “I appreciate how you’re nice to me at school on the playground” or “I appreciate how good you are at kickball.” It could also be something the person did – e.g. “I appreciate you sharing your paints with me” or “I appreciate the joke you told me this morning.” Don’t forget to add your own appreciations. Of course add some about the kids you care for, but don’t limit your appreciations to just them. It’s great for kids to understand there’s more to your world beyond them. This practice is also a great way to build strong relationships between kids that struggle with it.