November 7, 2016

Gratitude is the typical “theme” of November in many ways. But, even writing it here makes me say, ugh! Really, do we have to go around the table and talk about this topic? Groan.

But, I have already had two kids come into my private practice talking about their Christmas gift wish list and it’s barely past Halloween.  Not to mention I have had three parents complain that their children are never happy with what they have and are always “wanting more.”

Being Grateful Actually Makes You Happier

Harvard research shows that people who practice daily activities of giving thanks or showing appreciation for their lives are generally happier. The recommendation is usually to keep a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a place where you write down 10 things that you are grateful for each day.

I have found that most people (even when they want to) are usually pretty terrible at actually writing this down. You might think about it, but you usually have difficulty actually writing it down. And, anything extra that must be written down is going to be a total turn off for your school age child.

Beware of Gratitude Activities on Pinterest

I love Pinterest for all sorts of things. In fact, you can follow me on Pinterest for great ideas and inspirational quotes related to play therapy. And if you are looking for zillions of ideas about teaching gratitude to children, you can search gratitude activities on Pinterest and you will get tons of results. And they are so cute!

There are great arts and crafts activities and pretty little art projects about how to incorporate gratitude into your life. I am sure that they are wonderful. But, how many of us has 1000 pins of great ideas and have never tried a single one of them. It’s okay. Don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to put all of the things you are grateful for on the tail feathers of a turkey to practice gratitude.

So, just ask “What are you grateful for?”

Yeah right, that is going to go over about as well as “How was your day?” More than likely if you ask a child what they are grateful for, the answer will be “I don’t know.” Perfect.. now all of your turkey tail feathers are empty and you are frustrated because you have to make suggestions to your child like, “What about your brother playing video games with you?” or “Maybe when your dad took you with him to Home Depot.” Um, sure, whatever, mom!

Gratitude is a state of mind

The truth is that kids don’t really think in terms of the word  “grateful.” They might have a better understanding of what they APPRECIATE, but even then, you are likely to get a vague response.

A Gratitude Exercise In ONE EASY Question-

In organizational leadership conferences, I was trained to ask this one simple question when talking with employees about their jobs. This question is most likely to lead to positive organizational changes and help employees focus on making a difference rather than just complaining. And the truth is that it is a gratitude related question.

Ready for it?


Now….before you go celebrating how easy this is. I will tell you that without fail, 100% of the time that I ask a person, “What is going well?” they will respond with something  negative.

Like, “Oh, I don’t know” followed by something that is NOT going well, “I failed my test today.”  It is a habit. Complaining is a habit. Venting about the bad parts of our day is a habit.

That is the opposite of gratitude. Children are in the habit of coming home and confessing their failures. This is not good for self-esteem.

Make The Question A Habit

Practice asking the question again. Okay…that’s interesting, but I asked what went well today? Tell me something good that happened. Now, this might still be met with a vague, “nothing really” or “I din’t know” but usually I can get kids to say, “I passed my math test” or “we don’t have science homework.” Okay…now we have something to work with.   You are so grateful that you don’t have homework today. Alright! Moving on.

Start Looking For Something Positive To Report

Do this every day and your child will come to expect the question. So, they will be thinking about what is going well earlier in the day so that they have something to tell you. You can un-train the habit of complaining and retrain the habit of thinking more positively. In turn, you will start seeing more positives about your child instead of only focusing on bad parts of the report card or conduct sheet.

Think this is impossible? Read this story about successful children whose mother asked this question every night during dinner and how it shaped their future.

Writer Rita Schiano has been quoted as saying, “Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.” This is the key to teaching children to be more grateful. This is a simple and easy way to incorporate a daily gratitude practice into your family dinners or bedtime routines that sounds more like normal conversation and less like some touchy feely therapy exercise.

Try this out for a week and share your child’s response with me!


About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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