When parents think of leadership skills for kids, they usually think of character traits like confidence, courage, persistence, grit, etc. One trait that doesn’t often make the list is “gratitude”.
As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, gratitude is the “quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness; a warm feeling of goodwill towards a benefactor.”
Okay, that doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with leadership, does it? Sure, it’s a great quality, but leadership?
Turns out, scientific research has shown the impact of gratitude on people’s overall well-being and ability to accomplish goals. Two researchers from the University of California published their research titled “Gratitude as a Human Strength: Appraising the Evidence,” and in it, they concluded that “gratitude is an emotional state toward life that is a source of human strength in enhancing one’s personal and relational well-being.”
So how do we help kids regularly exercise this emotional muscle? That’s a great question. Here are a few simple tips you might find useful.
1. Use a Daily Journal
During my Leadership4Kids workshops, I ask each child to keep a journal As you can see below, one of the first things you see is the “I Appreciate” section. I used to call this section “I am grateful for…” like most gratitude journals. However, for some reason, kids respond better with the phrase “I appreciate,” perhaps because “I appreciate” is more action-oriented and “grateful” is too vague. Also, kids like very specific prompts, especially in the beginning.
Here a few examples of specific prompts for kids.
Appreciate the first person you saw when you got up this morning. — This prompt is very specific. Nothing abstract here and this prompt usually leads to an appreciation for one of the parents.
Appreciate something you threw away in the trash can earlier today — Again, a very specific prompt, which leads children to be more mindful about what they throw away.
Appreciate someone you helped today. Although you helped this person, can you come up with a reason why helping him/her is the same as helping yourself? — Very specific, again, which leads children to think about the reciprocal nature of cooperation and collaboration.
2. The second way one can foster “gratitude” is through somatic exercises
A good method that I’ve learned from Dr. Paul Linden, founder of Being-in-Movement, is as follows, and you can try at home as well.
“Take a moment and think of someone in your life who has been particularly helpful to you, perhaps gone out of their way to take account of your needs or feelings and smooth what would otherwise have been a difficult situation. What do you feel? What do you feel in your body? What emotion actions are you doing?”
Most likely, you will feel warmth and a sense of opening/expansion. Now, remember part of Oxford Dictionary definition of gratitude is “a warm feeling of goodwill towards a benefactor.” Turns out, that “warmth” is pretty universal (beyond language and culture) when it comes to experiencing gratitude.
3. Last but not least, do it together.
Many families have “grace” rituals before meals, and that’s a great way to cultivate gratitude. If you prefer a non-denominational type of idea, you can do what I call “appreciations” before a family meal. It is super fun and the kids get into very easily.
This is exactly what we do in my family. Before we start dinner, each of us (yes, including the grown ups) gives an appreciation — very simple things such as ‘’I appreciate mommy for making this yummy dinner’ or ‘ I appreciate myself for working hard during today’s basketball practice” or “I appreciate the rain outside.” Whatever comes to mind is fine, and this tends to open up for some interesting dinner time conversations as well. The key is doing it together as a family whenever possible.
I hope you find these three tips useful. Thank you.