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[Parent Tips] How Cultivating Gratitude Improves Your Child’s Well-Being and Achievement

Friday, November 11, 2016 -- Elaine Ho

With the holidays underway, what are some ways you can make this season a more memorable and educational one? One way that Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at University of California, Davis, suggests is to cultivate gratitude.

Interestingly, there are a host of physical, psychological, and social benefits that come with practicing gratitude on a regular basis. Some of these include: stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, more joy and pleasure, as well as more happiness. A study conducted by U. C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, which sponsors scientific research into social and emotional well-being, also shows students who regularly practice gratitude not only end up more optimistic and with higher life satisfaction, but they also become more motivated to help others and use their strengths to contribute to society.

Higher positive emotions are also a gateway towards better academic performance. In a study conducted by Dr. Patty O’Grady, professor at the University of Tampa, she finds that, “Positive experiences change the brain by making happy connections between the thinking brain and the feeling brain. The more happy connections that survive and thrive... the more learning occurs.” In other words, an increase in positive feelings can result in being more open to new ideas and solutions, encouraging more and deeper learning. Cultivating gratitude in your child can be the first step to help them experience these positives emotions that will be the good soil for better learning.

Show your children the benefits of gratitude by teaching them how to give thanks this holiday season. Here are 5 ways to get started!

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Set aside a daily time to sit with your child and write down at least 5 things you're grateful for that day. Depending on how old your child is, you can complete this activity together or each make your own list. Think about expressing thanksgiving for people, events, and things in your life that you may often overlook, and try to be specific as you write!

2. Start a gratitude jar with your family. Create a jar where everyone in your family can regularly deposit their spare change at the end of the day. When you’ve filled it up, donate the money to a cause or charity of your choice. In the meantime, it serves as a great reminder of needing to practice gratitude.

3. Write a thank you letter to someone. Relationships are such an important aspect of cultivating gratitude. Pass this lesson on to your child by taking the time to do some letter writing together. Ask your child to think of a person (outside of your immediate family) that they’re grateful to have in their life. Then, help them compose a handwritten note expressing that appreciation. Mail it together with your child, or deliver it personally.

4. Give back to your community. You’ve heard this one before—giving back is one of the most fulfilling things anyone can do. So, try finding opportunities to volunteer as a family. Especially around the holidays, there are many community organizations collecting donations, hosting meals, or otherwise in need of extra hands. Whether it’s spending an hour at a food shelf together, or picking out and dropping off a gift to be donated, community service is an outstanding chance to model an attitude of generosity and gratitude to your child, and help them appreciate all of the good in their own life and in others’.

5. Share your gratitude! You might be surprised at the number of things your child is able to notice and be grateful for that you may have missed, and vice versa! Set aside time with your family to share things you are grateful for (immediately before or after dinner often works well) to recall things each person may have noticed throughout their day. Modeling gratitude for your children can be a way to further grow a grateful mindset. Even better, verbalizing what you’re grateful to someone else for can increase both of your experiences of thankfulness.

Cultivating an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude in your child can have remarkable benefits on their overall happiness, health, and achievement. Best of all, small actions can go a long way towards this goal. Looking for extra research and studies on gratitude’s effects on learning? Check out these presentations by Dr. Kerry Howells, a researcher who coined the phrase “how thanking awakens our thinking” to learn more.