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Inspiring Kids to Love Their Differences

by Karen Walrond

Karen Walrond is a photographer, author and parent. She's discussing what parents can do to help their kids celebrate the things that make them different from others. Read and Comment »

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Serving Up Spoonfuls of Gratitude

by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons


Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons

Mary Beth Sammons (top) is an award-winning journalist who writes about family life. Nina Lesowitz (bottom) is an author who works with literacy organizations. Read more »

Recently, while attending a baby shower, one of the gifts to the soon-to-be new mom were note cards that accompanied each receiving blanket and basket of rattles, wipes and new baby gear, each offering sage advice from guests - the seasoned moms present. The tips ranged from "never let your kids sleep in your bed," to "take advantage of relatives wanting to babysit and take a break for yourself."

But, the resounding theme was to embrace the small,

special everyday moments between parent and child. Learn to be grateful for the simple pleasures, and parenting can be a much richer and fulfilling experience.

As "seasoned moms" (Nina has two daughters and Mary Beth has two daughters and a son), we have come to learn how to reduce stress and enjoy parenting when we remember not to sweat the small stuff, and instead practice saying thank you for the small moments.

It's easy to get caught up in the busyness of parenting - sleepless nights, juggling work and parenting, racing to the soccer field, ballet lessons, creating nutritional meals, soothing aches and ouches, etc. But looking at raising children through the lens of gratitude can unlock a fullness to parenting that might otherwise get lost in the chaos of school, after-school, doctor's appointments and other activities that can turn each day into a frenzied blur.

Practicing gratitude helps us change our brainwaves from noticing gaps and omissions. When you express a feeling, you amplify it. When you express irritation, you get more irritated, when you express appreciation, you become more grateful.
That also applies to parenting - and especially parenting children with special needs. How do parents of autistic children or children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other special needs stay grateful? It's natural to dwell on the challenges of parenting these children. But if you express gratitude for the minor successes, it will help get you through the hard times.

Learning how to connect with our children from a place of thankfulness can also mean teaching them, or guiding them, to find their own unique ways to express their thankfulness and what they are grateful for in their lives.

As parents, we know that it is possible to help teach our children how to give voice to their gratitude through their own concerns and hopes. Here are some quick ways to inject gratitude practices into you and your children's daily lives:

  • Start with prayer. Sit down with your child and ask him or her to create a prayer of thankfulness. Provide a simple starting point: "Thank you for..." Then, ask your child to draw a picture to go with the prayer.
  • Practice gratitude affirmations with your children. This is another way to help them unlock the fullness of life through gratitude. Take time every day, at the dinner table or right before bed, to encourage your child to share what she is grateful for that day. Create your own affirmations, too: "I am grateful today that even in my child's illness, having her home from school allowed me to show her my love and gave us the time to just be together for a day." "I am grateful that my two-year-old's feistiness demonstrates she's fully alive, healthy and doing what two-year-olds are supposed to be doing."
  • Encourage your family to look forward to sharing the moments in their day for which they are grateful. The practice of gratitude is a tool that they will be able to depend on throughout their lives, allowing them to meet challenges along the way with courage and grace.

Just think what the world would be like if all parents raised their children with an attitude of gratitude!

What ways do you demonstrate gratitude and the art of saying thank you to your children? Do you have any daily gratitude rituals?


Comments

Mary Beth? writes...

Thanks for your comment Nuria. I think that is the challenge whether it is children or adults who need us to care for and nurture them. I find that when I get really stressed and start going down the resentful or stressed out road, I need to pull myself back and be grateful for the fact that I have someone to love and that these people - children or adults each have some lesson to teach me. Then, I am grateful and less stressed.

Cari writes...

So important to remember as we hurry through our daily "stuff." Thanks for the reminder. I LOVED Living Life as a Thank You.

Gerry writes...

I wake up in the morning and feel grateful for the new day. I am grateful when I get a spot on the busy train to work in the mornings, and if I am driving, I say 'thank you' for the smooth traffic. I am also appreciative when it rains (the weather cools down), and grateful when the rain stops, so I can walk home in the nice cool weather. These and many many more, I practice consciously, everyday.

Nina? writes...

Gerry, thank you for your post. And doesn't that daily dose of thanks make you a happier person overall? With gratitude, Nina

Gerry writes...

Thanks Nina. Absolutely, with gratitude I noticed I am automatically focus on all the positive qualities of situations instead of the 'lack of'. I am not a parent but an early childhood educator. I make it an intention to share with n have the kids share a 'happy thought' or moment of gratitude. It is amazing to see that with practice, the children are changing: happier, more positive n confident. And with that, they now often share many Happy thoughts n Moments of gratitude. Thank you Nina and Mary Beth for putting this up. It's an excellent article and I am gonna share it with as many educators n parents as I know. And I'm gonna get your book. With gratitude n appreciation, Gerry (Singapore).

Justine writes...

"It's a great life if you don't weaken." is my motto. How to not weaken? Pray and be grateful for family, friends, flowers, food. Kids love to bake and walk and learn about the types of flowers and trees growing around them.... growing plants and playing games...learning to lose and being happy for the person who wins....have fun being a poor sport.....keep positive. This article brings up the importance of communication

Jerry writes...

"Start with prayer. Sit down with your child and ask him or her to create a prayer of thankfulness... draw a picture to go with the prayer." I am offended to find this suggestion on a page which is affiliated with pbs. Four of my seven grandchildren are Humanists (non-theistic) and express gratitude to others at a much higher level than most children. Being grateful to a mythical creature is not necessary, or even helpful, in learning to show gratitude to real people. Do you really believe that Christian children show appreciation better than others?

Donna writes...

"Start with prayer." I was glad to see this nod towards faith. I'm not sure if Christian children are more grateful, but in a culture which is growing more and more hostile to Christianity, I'm glad for the freedom to include the idea of prayer. In any case, these women did not mention any particular faith base. Can a humanist be grateful for a sunset without acknowledging a Creator? I would hope so. I don't think these women are declaring a faith stance, but a posture of the heart.

Mary Beth? writes...

Thanks for your feelings on our "start with prayer" suggestion. In reading between the lines, it seems we are all in some ways agreeing that it is important to surface our gratefulness. For some people this is done in a prayer of gratitude. For others, it is done differently.

We are suggesting that it is important for parents to act as the guides, and to create habits, rituals and authentic attention around our own gratefulness to set an example for our children to do the same.

Prayer is a way to evoke this process for some people and for families who believe in praying to a higher power. Certainly for families that are uncomfortable with prayer, this is not the route, but in a positive way, a reminder that it is important to voice our gratefulness.

Penny writes...

What great advice. It's really about finding the gifts in everything that happens good or bad, and being grateful for what we do have (or do not have).
Thanks for your suggestions.

Paige writes...

I was pleasantly surprised at the mention of prayer in this article, even if it was a generalized nod at whatever faith one chooses. One way I try to teach my children gratefulness is through Christian child sponsorship. We sponsor two children in Africa and one in Nicaragua. We talk about what life is like there and send and receive letters and pictures. Our sponsored child "NJ" from Rwanda wrote us a letter not to long ago expressing HIS gratitude for our support and for his birthday money...his family bought a goat! We pray for each of them every night. Great article!!

Mary Beth? writes...

Hi Paige:
Thanks for sharing this. You bring up a good point about gratitude. Sometimes one of the best ways to realize or be grateful for what we have - and to teach our children to do the same - is to give to others who have less. What you are doing with your children is teaching them to focus on making a difference for other children, and in doing so I believe they will see more clearly the blessings in their own lives. Thanks for sharing this.

BrooklynShoeBabe writes...

Each night, as a bed of our bedtime ritual, my daughters (ages 3 and 5) thank God for all of the things they like. They know that God created the planet they live on, and people go to live with God when they die. And, they also know that God's hand is in everything that is great. One of my daughter's favorite prayers is when she thanked God for "my head, brains, fingers and all that stuff."

Prayer is a good way to teach gratitude. It's better than "How can you ask for a new toy whenI just got you one? How will you be thankful for what you have if you keep getting new?" lecture I find myself hurling out sometimes when my children and I are in any store. lol.

terry writes...

Hi Nina and Mary Beth. I love your book!

I have had very bad anxiety issues since I was a child. It's only gotten worse since 9/11 and having children.

The gratitude piece has helped, but I find it difficult to employ when things are bad. Add to that my busy schedule, children, full-time job, lack of sleep - you know the drill. Sometimes, it's really tough for me.

Any words of wisdom on using gratitude to help manage my anxiety?

Nina? writes...

Dear Terry, I can totally relate! When my children were younger - (they are 19 and 21 now - there is light at the end of the tunnel!) - I was working full time, and dealing with my ex husband, and had severe insomnia. I woke up with debilitating anxiety, but I didn't want to take any pills or hormones.

I found that actually practicing gratitude made a huge difference. Reading books can only take you so far. You have to incorporate a practice into your day. I took time out of my day to shift my thinking from "what if" and "why" thoughts to ones of gratitude and appreciation. For instance, instead of focusing on worrying about my daughter's weight, or nutrition, or eating habits, I focused on how grateful I was for her good health. It really works!
Take time each day - when walking the dog, or during 10 minutes of meditation - to recount all the things you are grateful for. You will find yourself becoming a more optimistic person.
My anxiety has lessened substantially.
Good luck. It gets so much better!
With appreciation, Nina

luz writes...

thanks a lot for sharing such beautiful attitudes,I am a teacher in my country and every day we thanks for everething that we have,I specially thanks God for giving me the marvelous chance to teach young children....I am the luckiest person in the whole word.God bless all of you. Yours beatriz Arteaga

terry writes...

Hi Nina. Thank you so much for your help.

I realize that it's completely up to me to make practicing gratitude a part of my daily life - and not just when things aren't going smoothly.

I will start today.

Amy writes...

Great ideas... gratitude is something I have to remind myself to practice!

nicole writes...

Every morning I wake up and run straight to my childrens' bedroom. I gaze at their peacefulness because they look like little angels when they are sleeping. I begin to thank God that they are alive and healthy and he blessed them to see another day

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