Doctor’s ℞: An Attitude of Gratitude is Good for the Heart and Soul

by Jennifer A. Gardner, M.D. on December 18, 2013

Christmas is the Perfect Time for Gratitude

Christmas is the perfect time for gratitude, and it is something we can actively promote in our children. And gratitude is not only polite and appreciated, it turns out it is good for our emotional health; our very heart and soul!

A study on the impact of gratitude published in the Journal of School Psychology looked at more than 200 middle school students, and found that those students that wrote down five things they were grateful for each day for two weeks had higher levels of optimism, increased life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings. Even three weeks after they had stopped writing items down, the group of kids that expressed gratitude was more grateful than the control group that did not. And research presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention found that grateful teens are more likely to be happy, less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, and less likely to have behavioral problems at school, compared with less grateful teens.

Because children learn best by observation and repetition, an attitude of gratitude can start with YOU! Throughout the day display small acts of gratitude without pomp and circumstance ("I’m really glad you cleaned up," "Thanks for doing your homework without me asking,"  "I am so grateful that you are a loving child"). Leaving your child a written note on the refrigerator is another great way to reinforce being thankful. Why not have your children tell you before bed something that they were grateful for that day, or some act of kindness they saw someone else do? It’s establishing this habit when they are young that will most likely result in an adult with an attitude of gratitude that shines. Gratitude is the secret to life's joy and happiness, and children that learn to be grateful have a jump start on a fulfilling life;  most adults do not learn this until later in life.

This December:  

For kids, the weeks leading up to Christmas is often about focusing on what they want and don’t have. But during the holidays, do try to spend time focusing with your child on what he or she already has to counter balance this. A great way to physically express gratitude is to volunteer (animal shelters and senior homes are often kid friendly), make bake goods for someone who has helped the child (teachers/clergy), or bring wrapped presents to a senior home or homeless shelter.

If you have an advent calendar, try having your child replace the treat taken from the calendar with a short note highlighting what he/she is grateful for that day. In my house we named it our “Counting Our Blessings” Advent Calendar. A great Christmas Eve tradition is to have your child choose a gently used toy that's been outgrown, and put it under the tree for Santa to deliver to a needy child (or take back to the North Pole for next year!). Children that recognize the gift of giving—the joy of making others happy—want to give, not just receive.

New Year's Resolution:

The month of January would be a great month to do a gratitude journal with your little ones. 

Have a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to you and your family. 

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