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A Caregiver’s Guide to Focusing on Gratitude

by and on December 20, 2018 4:00 AM

Small acts of everyday kind gestures can yield great gains. In fact, research conducted by State College’s very own Dr. Zita Oravecz indicates that small acts of kindness rather than grand gestures are key to feeling loved and supported.

These small acts, such as cuddling with a child, receiving compassion and kind words are what make people feel most loved. Compassion can be modeled by caregivers in the form of gratitude this holiday season. Gratitude is an important concept that can be defined as a virtue or as an emotion that involves a relationship or connection between a benefactor and a beneficiary.

Results of recent studies indicate that fostering gratitude in our children can have long lasting benefits including helping them form, maintain, and strengthen supportive relationships with adults and peers. The following is offered as a caregivers guide to teach and reinforce gratitude this holiday season:

Step One: Model gratitude. Provide children with a guide or map for what to do and say in social contexts. Expressing your gratitude towards others through words, writing, or acts of reciprocity are very important ways to teach children how to be grateful.

Step Two: Communicate. Convey to other caregivers and family members the importance of gratitude and your focus on grateful acts in your child’s life. Sharing this goal with other important individuals including babysitters, grandparents, relatives, and neighbors can effectively create an entire village of grateful adults in your child’s life. Communication can also occur through modeling. This occurs when others observe you speak and interact with your child.

Step Three: Gratitude letters. Children can write letters of gratitude to people in their lives who have kindly prepared holiday meals or to those who have helped them achieve, been kind to them, or have done something to make a difference in their worlds. Recipients of these letters may include family members, school staff, coaches or activity leaders, friends, etc. These letters could be handwritten, or written as an e-mail, a thank you card, a note left in a locker or on a desk, or even conveyed through a text.

Step Four: Gratitude journals. Children can write daily in a gratitude journal at a designated time. The task could be to write three to five sentences about people, pets, activities, etc. for which they are grateful.

Step Five: Daily gratitude statements. Your family may wish to start and end the day by sharing statements of gratitude with one another.

Step Six: Gratitude jar. Use a mason jar or an empty fish bowl. Have your child write down something that they are grateful for at the end of each day. Review these as a family at the end of the week.

Rather than focusing on short term, tangible presents this holiday season, parents and caregivers are encouraged to promote gratitude, thus providing their child with a life-long gift. When we promote gratitude in our children, we are not only helping them to think and act gratefully in the here and now, we are guiding them to positive strategies and focusing on a path for a purposeful and meaningful life.

Jessica Dirsmith is a certified school psychologist. She practices in the State College Area School District and teaches at Penn State. 

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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