Your Tahoe Health: Teaching children to express gratitude | SierraSun.com

Your Tahoe Health: Teaching children to express gratitude

Nikki Dean and Jill Whisler
Special to the Sun
A well-placed thank you can go a long way for someone.
Getty Images | iStockphoto

Did you know that just saying the two magic words, “thank you,” has the power improve our health? Research from the Greater Good Science Center tells us that gratitude actually blocks toxic emotions even as it allows us to celebrate the present.

What’s more, grateful people are more stress-resistant and have a higher sense of self-worth.

Help children reach out to others in meaningful ways. They’re old enough to make a real difference, even if it’s a small one. Not only will they feel good about what they can do, but helping others will foster a sense of appreciation for the people, experiences and things they value in their own lives.

Here are simple tips for children of different ages to help them practice gratitude throughout this holiday season and beyond.

Encourage elementary children to:

1. Hand-write thank-yous. One sentence per grade is a good rule of thumb, and be sure to send them out promptly.

2. Make a gratitude jar. Fill it with short handwritten notes of gratitude (“I’m thankful we won the big game!” or, “I’m grateful Grandma came to visit.”) Pick a special time to pull out notes at random and read them aloud.

3. Make it stick. Leave sticky notes for each family member to thank them for something you appreciate.

4. Celebrate your year. Every birthday, make a list of things you are grateful for that year. A 5-year-old can think of five things, while a 10-year-old can manage at least 10.

The middle school years:

As kids embark on their early teens, it’s time to help them appreciate how good they have it. These years are also a good time to encourage generosity, and help kids learn when and how to go above and beyond as they reach out to others.

Keep up the previous lists, plus encourage them to:

1. Get it on video. Make a thank-you video for someone who gave you a gift or showed you a kindness. Saying thank you is always important, but it’s OK to think beyond the note.

2. Make a plan. Research a service project, and make a plan to execute it. Invite others to join in.

3. Create a gratitude photo book. Using a smart phone (or a plain old camera, or magazines), gather photos of the things you’re thankful for.

4. Help out without being asked. Make it a goal to do so once a day —and for any member of the family.

The high school years:

By this time, kids need to learn how to “own” their gratitude. With their growing need for independence, they’ll enjoy showing their appreciation and making a difference on their own terms.

Happiness expert and author Christine Carter, PhD, suggests teens focus on altruism — helping others and practicing kindness — rather than simply on gratitude. She states, “Helping others evokes feelings of gratitude, compassion, and confidence in people of any age.”

Keep up the previous list, plus encourage your kids to:

1. Thank a teacher or coach. Send a handwritten note to let him know how much his efforts make a difference.

2. Volunteer a Saturday. Think food pantry or animal shelter, and try to make it a regular commitment.

3. Go back to school. Donate your time to your old elementary or middle school. B-FIT program is always looking for volunteers to help in the classrooms to share the wellness theme of the month!

4. Create a new family gratitude ritual. Make it something you can continue when you’re on your own.

Whether your kids are just out of diapers or almost into dorm rooms, there’s plenty you can do to develop and encourage a grateful heart.

Join the December Gratitude Wellness Challenge! It’s free, it’s inspirational, and you’re guaranteed to add smiles as you make happiness deposits wherever you go!

This article was inspired by Nikki Dean, motivational yoga instructor, and submitted by Jill Whisler, a dedicated dietitian practicing gratitude. Nikki and Jill are members of Rethink Healthy, a service of Tahoe Forest Health System. Call 530-550-6730 or email gvannatta@tfhd.com for more information or to volunteer.