Cultivating Gratitude in Children and OurselvesNov 22, 2022
Gratitude journaling is NOT the answer!
Well, here we are at Thanksgiving, and if one more person mentions gratitude journals, I might actually flip out. Now, if you have one and it feels really great to you, that's awesome! But, in observing clients use them over the years, the gratitude journal seems to do more harm than good and perpetuates a distorted view of gratitude that we learned as kids.
Remember our parents cajoling us into saying thank you or peppering us with stories of how good we had it compared to others? How much true gratitude did that inspire? How about guilt or shame?
For some, the gratitude journal becomes a way to have that parental voice in our ear: “Be grateful, dammit! Look at all you SHOULD be thankful for! Appreciate your blessings!” But this isn’t true gratitude or happiness.
So, how can we cultivate true gratitude in ourselves and our kids?
Fostering versus Forcing
Whenever working on ethics or emotions with children, it's far more effective to go for FOSTERING versus FORCING because the truth is that we can't force anyone to feel anything. Support yourself and your child in learning the outward actions of gratitude AND the inner process of a lived experience of gratitude.
Separate morality from behavior.
Please, Thank You, Generosity…these are MANNERS, not emotions or values. They are important behaviors to expect and model - no morality lecture is needed. Expect them by establishing rules and enforcing them. Model them by being generous yourself and by saying please and thank you a lot, especially to kids. When we think our child's failure to say thank you reflects a moral lack, we get upset, overreact or get down on ourselves. And that makes it hard to stick to boundaries or parent calmly.
When you or your child aren’t feeling or showing gratitude, what’s going on? As parents, we jump to the ‘entitlement’ conclusion when kids aren’t grateful. But is that really true? When you aren’t grateful, is it because you’re entitled or because you’re simply not happy or satisfied? Curious exploration and honoring your discoveries will get you SO much closer to gratitude, both with yourself and your child. This might include giving yourselves space to feel dissatisfaction (NOT gratitude) for the way life is now.
I’m wishing everyone a fabulous Thanksgiving season filled with true emotions and genuine connection. And I myself am grateful for every opportunity you have afforded me to be helpful in your parenting journey and share my work with you. Happy Thanksgiving!