7 Strategies to Implement Gratitude with Your Kids {and Yourself}

Entitlement is a real thing. Just this morning, one of my children which will remain nameless was running a little behind. To help her sibling, another one of my children put bread in the toaster for her. When my child who was running late came into the kitchen– I mentioned that their sibling had put in the bread for them. They retrieved the toast only to say, “Than–oh–I like my toast darker than that.” After the initial shock of hearing their statement wore off, I realized that the missing part of this equation was gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote for entitlement and is beyond powerful. In this case, it was easy to point out that I was grateful for a toaster button that could be pushed again and would result in darker toast and that I was grateful that a sibling cared enough to try and help them eat breakfast. Luckily this story ends well with my child apologizing to their sibling, saying thank you and all toast was buttered and no one ended up being late. However, it is amazing how fast we can go from being grateful to entitled. Here are seven strategies to help implement more gratitude in your kids and yourself.

Recognize the Source: When your child comes home from school with a smile on their face with a good grade on a report, it is easy to praise them for their efforts and celebrate in their joy. But there is one more acknowledgment that will help them cultivate gratitude in their lives and that is simply by helping them recognize an additional source of gratitude. So that means that they aren’t just grateful for the result of a good grade that maybe came from extra hard work that they put in but with one extra statement you can help them recognize invisible sources they wouldn’t automatically consider. This is simply done by an extra statement–“I am so thankful that we live in a place where you have the opportunity to learn and go to school.” This is a statement of an invisible source that aided in their success. It really doesn’t matter what the statement is–just as long as it is an additional one that will help them consider more sources in their life that they might feel gratitude for.

Show them by Example: It is very easy in the day to day of life that we become complacent. I heard a wise saying the other day: Imagine that today you only had what you expressed gratitude for yesterday. I know a lot of us would be left without a lot as we all have a natural tendency to become accustomed to things and we all develop entitlement–I don’t always express gratitude for hot water during a shower but I sure expect that it should be a hot shower when I turn on the water. It is much more natural to complain when you don’t have something than it is to express gratitude for something when you expect it. It’s also easy to fail to see how actions can be an expression of gratitude: For instance, when I leave, I try to make sure all the lights are off. My daughter asked me why I even cared once and I quickly responded that I’m thankful that your Dad works so hard to earn money so we can have electricity so I’m making sure all the lights are off when we leave. When my kids were able to recognize the connection between their actions being a way to show gratitude, they were much better at doing the “light checks”. Kids and really even adults can use help in recognizing examples of gratitude to help them to make the connections between how things come to be and that it is not just the magic of a light switch.

Create Rituals or Routines around Gratitude: Make gratitude an every day part of your life by associating it with something you do on a regular basis. A friend once told me how when she is folding laundry–a task that she despises– she thinks of things or attributes of each person as she is folding their clothes. I thought it was a neat idea and decided to do the same. I found that I looked forward to folding clothes and my love and patience for my kids on laundry day is often higher. Other examples of adding gratitude to your life routines could be talking about something you are grateful for while you are picking up or dropping off your kids to school or an activity. Discuss one thing you are grateful for during dinnertime. Prayer time is another routine time that they can express their gratitude on a regular basis.

Express it: This is often the most obvious strategy but one that really gets overlooked. It is difficult to express gratitude when we expect things but it doesn’t mean we should stop expressing our gratitude. It seems ridiculous to constantly repeat, “Thanks for putting on your seatbelt.” or “Thanks for putting away your laundry” when you have asked them it feels like a dozen times to do so. However, saying thank you and acknowledging the gratitude you feel when they complete a task is an absolute game changer. It can trigger your brain to feel more optimistic and it also positively affects your child to increase their motivation to complete those tasks that are sincerely acknowledged. Think about the last time someone told you thank you for a routine task “Thank you for dinner.” or “Thank you for putting gas in the car”. It makes a big difference and helps your kids to feel more gratitude even for the mundane and typical things we all do everyday.

Make a Gratitude Journal: Although there are benefits from just reciting things you are grateful for, their is actually proven evidence that writing them down makes a big difference. In fact, researchers at Indiana University and Harvard found that writing down three things everyday for 21 days increases your level of optimism and more importantly that this higher level of optimism lasts for 6 months. Take a moment and jot things down or even put them in the notes section of your phone and notice the lasting difference gratitude can make in your life.

The Silent Minute Technique: Mister Rogers was an advocate for what he called the silent minute. During this minute he would ask that you think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Whether they were near or far away or even in heaven, if they’ve loved you and encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you he asked that you honor them and devote some thoughts to them during one silent minute. Imagine how grateful they must be that during your silent times you remember how important they are to you. You can even take this silent minute technique a step farther by taking a minute to do something in their honor to show them how grateful you are.

Remember the Beginnings. We are very visual people, so put things in your line of sight that help your kids and you feel gratitude and remember the gratitude that you have felt. Maybe it is putting up the homemade card your kids made for you in their office when they could barely write their letters, maybe it is a particular quote or saying about gratitude that you display in your home. One thing that helps me remember the beginnings and increases my gratitude is oranges. I have a great grandfather who was a farmer and in a tough year they were barely able to scrape enough money that the only gift my great grandfather got for Christmas that year was an orange. He was so grateful though for that orange that he ate the entire thing including the peel. This helps me put into perspective when Christmas gift giving and receiving gets out of hand. We all have a natural tendency to forget the beginnings and get accustomed to what we have now and remembering the beginnings–living in a one bedroom apartment or eating ramen noodles in college–helps us have gratitude for what we have now no matter what the quantities. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (Anonymous)

Bottom line, you cannot make someone else feel gratitude—feeling gratitude is a choice–but you can share the gratitude you feel and can inspire them to recognize and feel the gratitude in their own lives.

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Top Tip to Stop Negative Self-Talk

It has often been said that the greatest battles we face are the battles within our own mind. Today’s tip is a simple one, but can make a tremendous difference in combating this war with a simple tool I call the thought check.

The thought check is a quick and effective exercise in gaging how we are treating ourselves. Here is how it works: you simply imagine your best friend committing the same error that you have. How would you respond to them?

For instance, you are late for an important meeting or for picking up carpool. What would you tell your friend if they were to relay to you that they were late for an important meeting or picking up carpool? Would you berate them or attack their character with phrases like, “You are such an idiot and are so unreliable.” “Why can’t you get your act together?” No, that would be absolutely crazy. While the fact they were late doesn’t change, you would probably be empathetic to their plight and express that this does not define their character and maybe you would offer some perspective or advice–“Everybody’s late sometimes. Maybe next time you could try taking a different route–that freeway is so backed up at that hour.” “I know that you are feeling embarrassed right now. This isn’t you. They will get to know that you will be there next time on time. Everything is going to be okay. “

You then repeat those phrases to yourself that you would tell your best friend rather than the internal negative dialogue that we often berate ourselves with. This tool allows yourself the grace and room to acknowledge weaknesses and shortcomings but from a place of love and growth that allow you to become better. So the next time you recognize a mistake and the negative inner dialogue you tell yourself, simply stop and tell your mind to do a “Thought Check”. Become your own best friend. We all spend a lot of time in our own heads– make it a place where you would want to be.

How Failure Allows You to Grow

Anyone who has taken a timed test has felt that overwhelming rush of pure anxiety. Even decades later I can remember the surge I would feel when I got to the bottom row of math problems knowing that time was nearly out. Failure was never a fun feeling. Fast forward a few years to today and now I am the one giving these timed tests and I can say that it might even be harder to watch someone else fail. While volunteering today at my children’s elementary school I was giving timed tests for division for my daughter’s 5th grade class. As I watched the seconds on my clock slowly tick away as these young kids furiously were trying to finish in time, I was in agony. I felt impulsed to silence my alarm on the clock to give them a few extra seconds to finish but then I remembered that this would not help them in the long run. Failure, although hard to watch, is not bad. In fact, failure is often our best teacher.

Struggle and failure are a part of life–the key is learning how to deal with failure. Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Failure is simply the opportunity to try again, this time more intelligently.” Failure is a way to learn–maybe what to do different–maybe what went wrong–but in my opinion the greatest lesson it teaches you is that you can do hard things and that failure doesn’t define you but can demonstrate the courage and strength that do define you–those parts of your character that help you to try again.

I will always remember the day that I “rescued” a butterfly that I had found in our backyard as a little girl. I watched it as it was emerging from its chrysalis and I could tell that it was struggling and not wanting it to experience any difficulty, I assisted in removing it from what I viewed as it’s cage. When it sad there limpless for an extended time, I went running to my mom who listened to my breathless explanation as I frantically tried to help this creature. My mom explained that it didn’t get enough blood to it’s wings–that struggling in the chrysalis was the way in which the blood went to the wings and would allow it to fly. My assistance had crippled the butterflies ability to fly on its own. Sometimes, just like me, out of love and concern we remove obstacles from the lives of our children that are meant to teach them about the inner strength they have which will let them fly on their own.

So, don’t be afraid of failure or even watching those you love fail. Although it is difficult to experience and agonizing to watch, it serves a character building experience in a way that no other experience can. God knows how to build and shape character.

Remember that we are all like pencils–each with an eraser at their disposal that has the potential to fix failures. It is an essential skill that we all need to learn to be able to fail and fix mistakes. An old man said, “Erasers are made for those who make mistakes.” A youth replied, “Erasers are made for those who are willing to correct their mistakes.” Allow failure in your life and in those you love. Erasers are a gift but only if they are used.

#1 Tip to Finding Joy: Learn How to Celebrate the Little Things

It is important, whether it is in your job, in your marriage, or with your children, that you are able to find joy in the process, not just in the outcome. The thought, “I’ll be happy when…” is the robber of many moments of happiness and joy. The key is to learn to celebrate the everyday small things.

It has been said that Rome was not built in a day. Neither are your relationships with your spouse or your children. In fact, most of the success comes in the small everyday actions that build cities, individuals and families. It is important to look for, recognize and celebrate those small moments that contribute to the process and find joy in them.

This is something that I strive to do and I make an honest effort to catch my children doing something good and I will make a mention of the impact of that effort. Many times they are unable to see how their actions whether they are positive or negative impact the world around them. Just yesterday, I accompanied my daughter’s 4th grade class on their field trip to visit the State Capitol building and I brought my 6 year-old son and my 4 year-old daughter. As we went to enter the building, my son, on his own accord, opened the door and then held that door open for the classes to enter. I mentioned what a thoughtful idea that was and how much he helped using his strength and hard work and how everyone was able to enter the building faster especially the students carrying the lunch bucket. Little did I realize the impact of that compliment and how many doors are part of the tour of the Capitol building ;). It became his mission to open the door whenever he could and to hold it open until he was the last one in the room. It was a small token of kindness but one that brought joy to many and helped him to develop hard work, think of others rather than himself and to be kind. Watching him became a moment of joy in the process of parenting for me.

It is easy to get caught up in the celebrations that are celebrated by others in the world–the valedictorian or the talented athlete. It takes thought and effort to find reasons and ways to celebrate character traits that are not measured by a GPA or a high vertical jump. While excelling in school or on the field are accomplishments from months and years of training, the true joy lies not in the outcome but the process.

I once watched an olympic athlete who placed second celebrate more than I have ever seen- in fact–I would go as far as to say that they outwardly celebrated more than the person who placed first by hundreds of a second. It could have been really easy to focus on those hundreds of a second that cost them the gold medal, but that outcome wasn’t their focus.

At my son’s T-Ball game a few weeks ago I was able to watch that same reaction by an opposing player who had some delays that affected his physical body but not his heart. After swinging and missing a dozen or so pitches, they brought out the Tee for him to hit off which in the Rookie little league is sometimes a fate worse than death. However, this boy appeared unaffected by this “plight” and then swung with all his might and after a few swings and misses from the tee, managed to hit the tee and the ball so that the ball was knocked off the tee and traveled maybe two feet before it rolled to a stop. That young man ran to 1st base pumping his arms in the air like he had hit a homerun in the world series. How amazing would it be if we all celebrated the small meaningful moments like him.

So, look for ways to highlight the small, everyday moments. You’ll be amazed at the joy you can discover there.

5 Ways Humility Can Help You Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

There is a natural tendency that we all have to compare. Even a two year-old is capable of quickly recognizing if they have less fruit snacks than their siblings. Comparing in of itself is not wrong and can be a valuable skill set—for example– comparison shopping can allow you to get the best deal on your new phone, car or groceries. However, we often have a tendency of comparing apples to oranges. We will look at our weaknesses and compare them to the strengths of others. We will stand in awe of the woman who obviously makes it to the gym in the morning when we are struggling to get our kids to school on time. We will focus on something we are struggling with and then notice the person who seems to excel in that area and this usually does not foster positive feelings towards that person. This usually leads in the direction of self-loathing and being critical of our ourselves and our weaknesses or to feelings of envy and jealousy of the person we view as successful in an area we are lacking in. However, there is one characteristic that everyone can develop that will directly counter these outcomes of our natural tendency to compare: humility.

One: Being humble is a way that you can still recognize your own weaknesses and the strengths of another without the overwhelming negative feelings. Humility allows you to recognize and remember that we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses that we can improve. Humility allows us know that there is room for growth in all of us for a reason. We can focus on our own self-improvement and look of ways to work on and get better and allow others the same opportunity.

Two: Being humble also helps us to be kind to ourselves. When my mom is overwhelmed, she often says, “I am only one person.” It is helpful to remember this and that we are not meant to be more than just one person–a person who will make mistakes–a person with flaws but a person who is learning. We are one person but we make a huge difference.

Three: Being humble allows us to create true connections. It does not mean being weak nor that we should allow ourselves to be at the dictates of someone else. Recognizing that we have weaknesses does not mean that we negate our strengths. In fact, it helps us relate and connect more to others realizing that we all have strengths and things that we offer to this world that make a difference. Humility allows for us to reach out for help when we need it and creates connections with others which is the strongest predictor of happiness. (truth-or-myth-connection-is-the-strongest-predictor-of-happiness)

Four: Being humble also allows us to remember that everything we have–our time, our talents and skills, our health and energy, even our very lives come as free gifts from God. When you recognize that you have been given talents and gifts, it makes it much easier to share them.

Five: Being humble means being teachable. We can seek to learn from those that have strengths in areas that we might be lacking. We are not meant to know everything but we are meant be be able to learn. Being humble is what makes the true difference in learning. My daughter was having a difficult time with a particular subject in math. I can remember this feeling as I was in math class in high school. Math had been pretty simple for me growing up and then for some reason geometry happened and I can remember looking around in class thinking I was the only person who just wasn’t getting it. My counsel for my daughter was the same counsel I would have given my 9th grade self–raise your hand. Acknowledge if something is hard for you to understand. Your teacher does understand it and can help you. When you acknowledge what you don’t know, you allow your mind to focus on learning that exact information. Humility is the key to learning.

So, the next time you recognize the feelings of envy that are derived from comparing, give yourself a dose of humility. Refocus your energy on ways in which you can use the talents that you have been given and look to learn from those around you. Being humble makes a real difference.

Tuesday Tip: The Importance of Distinguishing Between Shame and Guilt.

There are few words and feelings that make such a profound difference as the difference between these two five-letter words: Shame and Guilt. While you might think they are synonyms, you will be surprised to know that psychologically speaking, they are more distinct than you might think and understanding their differences can be life altering.

So, what’s the difference? According to renowned researcher/storyteller, Brené Brown, PhD, LCSW, the difference is huge. Brown has been researching shame for over ten years and her TED talks have garnered over 10 million views. She defines shame as the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame focuses on yourself: “I am a bad person… I am stupid…I am a failure.”

She defines guilt on the other hand as “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” She view guilt as adaptive and helpful and focuses instead on the behavior: “This behavior is bad…that was a really stupid thing to do…that outcome was a failure.”

According to Brown, “Shame [is] highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression. Guilt? Inversely correlated with those.” What does that mean? That means the ability to change the way in which you talk to yourself (guilt vs. shame) or your internal dialogue can dramatically change the outcome.

Guilt serves as a motivating factor to change whereas shame becomes the catalyst to the downward spiral of self loathing that has been correlated with depression and addiction. For example, I could do really poorly on a test and say to myself: “Dang it. That was a mistake. I should have studied differently.” Now, I still feel bad and the event didn’t change-I still did poorly, but I am motivated to fix that mistake.

Check out the difference with shame: “Dang it. I am such a loser. I am so stupid. I don’t know why I bothered to think that I would ever be good at taking a test.” Shame cuts at your self identity and does not inspire you to move forward but rather stay in a downward spiral of negative thoughts.
The ability to change the self-talk — and believe it — can dramatically change the outcome.

So, today’s Tuesday Tip: examine your internal dialogue. Is it more inline with shame or guilt? When you or someone you love make a mistake, allow your feelings of guilt to inspire a course correction. As I lovingly repeat to my kids on a daily basis: “Peirce’s make mistakes and Peirce’s fix mistakes.” They might have the same number of letters but feeling shame and guilt are extremely different and distinguishing between them is an absolute game changer.

Three Tips on Love From Mister Rogers {Including a One Minute Tip That Will Enhance Your Life}

For over 30 years, starting in 1968, Fred Rogers entertained and enlightened millions of viewers on his popular PBS television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Even now, 50 years later, PBS still airs an animated show created and produced by the Fred Rogers productions called “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” The impact of Mister Rogers is undeniable and difficult to measure. Here are three tips from Mister Rogers specifically about love.

Tip #1: “You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.”

This is a quote from Mister Roger’s commencement address at Dartmouth College in 2002. He was explaining the meaning behind a song from his popular PBS television program:
“It’s you I like.
It’s not the things you wear.
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now
The way down deep inside you.
Not the things that hide you.
Not your caps and gowns,
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like.
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you remember
Even when you’re feeling blue.
That it’s you I like,
It’s you, yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.”

Knowing that we are inherently loved–not because of anything that we have done or accomplished but simply because we are, is one of the most crucial concepts that we learn.

Tip #2: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It’s an active noun- like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

I like you just the way you are does not imply that there is no room for change or growth. In fact, as Mister Roger explains, “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.” Love is the ingredient which allows for any and all positive attributes to flourish and grow.

Tip #3: “When we love a person, we accept him or her exactly as is: the lovely with the unlovely, the strong with the fearful, the true mixed in with the facade, and of course the only way we can do it is by accepting ourselves that way.”

Recognizing and accepting our own strengths and shortcomings allows us to appreciate and accept that the humanness of everyone else and to truly love them. Mister Rogers noted, “What interests me so much about the characters of the Bible is that they make mistakes but God uses them anyways, in important ways. Nobody is perfect, but God can even use our imperfections.”

Mister Rogers’ wisdom about love cannot be understated. Today’s Tuesday Tip is an exercise developed by Mister Rogers that within one minute will enhance your gratitude and cultivate the love that you feel.

Mister Rogers was an advocate for what he called the silent minute. During this minute he would ask that you think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Whether they were near or far away or even in heaven, if they’ve loved you and encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you he asked that you honor them and devote some thoughts to them during one silent minute. Imagine how grateful they must be that during your silent times you remember how important they are to you.

Try the silent minute exercise and see if your gratitude and love increase. Those 60 seconds can easily end up being your favorite part of your day. In the words of the infamous guru of childhood programing:

 

Balance Is Not Something You Just Find, But Something You Can Create.

Whether you are seeking small changes or searching for big miracles, the proven tips and strategies you find here can help you improve the way you think and feel about yourself and help create the quality relationships that we all want and need.

“Tuesday Tips” are designed to be practical, shareable tips with explanations to how they can impact and improve your emotional health and relationships.

Truth or Myth? These posts shared on Thursdays are designed to provide practical points to ponder and help provide psychoeducation to truths and myths about all aspects of emotional health.

Do you have a question that you would like answered by a licensed marriage and family therapist? Feel free to contact me with your question. Your question may provide the answers that will benefit others as well and all responses will be posted without any identifying information. Answers to questions asked can be found here.

Regardless of where you are in your personal journey, welcome! I hope that the practical, proven tips, strategies and answers you find here will help you on your journey to create the balance we all need. Practically speaking, “What you do today can improve all of your tomorrows.” (Ralph Marston)

-Brita