Thoughtful Parenting: Practicing gratitude benefits well-being

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— Gratitude is a feeling of being grateful or thankful, realizing that something good happened and appreciating that it did. Good things and good times wax and wane, and we miss them when they’re not there. Gratitude is especially difficult to muster when times are really hard, so what can we be grateful for when things aren’t going our way?

Thoughtful Parenting

This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

A regular gratitude practice (one to three times per week) can be beneficial to our physical and emotional well-being. People report improved life satisfaction, more contentment, vitality and increased hope as well as less depression, envy and physical discomfort. Like eating healthy food, getting regular exercise, spending time with people and engaging in a spiritual practice, doing things that take work and planning can have positive payoffs.

We want our kids to have healthy and resilient lives. Knowing that gratitude is an important contributor, how do we cultivate it? By about age 8, kids understand the concept of gratitude. Parents can teach gratitude to younger and older children through modeling, discussion and fun activities.

Here are some tips:

• Consider starting your own regular gratitude practice. Set aside to reflect and write down words of gratitude. Record something when the moment strikes — in your planner, on a scrap of paper, on a sticky note or on an opened piece of mail. Or simply say silent words of gratitude.

• When you feel grateful and are with your child, say it aloud. “I’m feeling grateful because I have a car that works today, and I can get you to school on time.” You might get a perplexed look, so talk about how it might feel if the car wasn’t working. You are modeling gratitude for everyday things.

• Talk about experiences. “I feel grateful that someone took a minute to talk to me when I was feeling worried,” or “I feel thankful that my boss was understanding when I had to go to the doctor.”

• Wonderment is gratitude. We live in a stunning natural world. Humans show their strength, talent and perseverance every day. “Wow, that was awesome!” is appreciation for something spectacular.

• Avoid imposing gratitude by saying, “But aren’t you grateful for … ?” Simply listening to your child when they feel sad, disappointed or hurt is all they need in that moment.

• Infuse gratitude into your child’s bedtime or mealtime routine. Take the lead and start. If you are having a hard time thinking of something, it’s OK for your child to hear that. With practice, the ideas flow.

Even during the rough patches, the highlights and the busyness of our lives, take a moment to pause, take a breath and consider, "Where can I find gratitude in my life?"

Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Steamboat Springs. She is a member of First Impressions, Routt County’s Early Childhood Council. Read her blog at www.successfulkidstoday.com.

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