Studies have shown the power of gratitude to combat negative thought patterns and reshape the brain. Your brain can’t be in gratitude and worry at the same time, so gratitude is a great way to overcome anxiety.
But, how do you teach an anxious kid to replace negative, repetitive thoughts with gratitude?
Here are three easy ways!
1. Family Meal Gratitude Rituals
Studies show that children who have healthy, daily rituals function better in the world. Many families say a prayer before meals. If your family already does this, you can easily add a gratitude ritual before or after the prayer. If your family doesn’t say prayers, this ritual can stand on its own.
We started a gratitude ritual in our family for two reasons. First, A, my youngest son, who was about 10 at the time, had become increasingly negative. A complained A LOT about EVERYTHING! It was very frustrating. Serendipitously, I was in yoga teacher training at the time and learning about the yamas and niyamas for the first time, and I was assigned to write a paper on Santosha (contentment). Through this research and writing process I realized that Santosha was what our family needed so we began two new dinner rituals. We call them “Good Thing” and “Looking Forward To.”
Good Thing is when each of us tells something good from our day, essentially something we’re grateful for. J almost always says something about video games or food. A often says something about the food, but sometimes he says something about his day. C says something different every day. My husband and I try to say something often about the kids or each other. This gives us a chance to demonstrate gratitude in front of the kids every day!
We had to make a couple of rules. Your good thing has to be something different than the day before. It should be something from that day. You can’t just repeat what the person before you says. It has to be positive and as specific as possible.
We start this ritual by asking, “What’s your good thing today?” We go in order of youngest to oldest. When we have visitors, we ask them to participate as well. This has been a blessing for our family and friends!
Here are some things our family and friends have said:
- time with family and friends
- time with Mom
- new friends
- winning a game
- playing well in a game
- being able to watch one of the kids play a game
- good food
- school/work being over
- feeling better
- waking up this morning
- having someone else cook dinner
Looking Forward To is about hopefulness. At the end of the meal, each person says what they’re looking forward to that day or in the next few days. J almost always says “sleep” or “freedom” (meaning he’ll be able to leave the table and do something else or he’ll be done with his chores). Everyone else has a variety of responses.
We start this ritual by asking, “What are you looking forward to?” Again, we go youngest to oldest. The kids aren’t allowed to leave the table until everyone answers, unless they’re doing dishes.
We have had lots of different answers!
- Carowinds (an amusement park in Charlotte)
- playing with friends
- going to Grammy’s house
- Tony’s Ice Cream
- Sweet Frog (for straight A’s)
- cuddle time
- the weekend
2. Practicing Gratitude Throughout the Day
- “That lady was really nice to let that man out onto the highway.” Pointing out something nice done for someone else.
- Wave to the person who let you out and say “Thank You” out loud, even though the driver can’t hear you.
- Tell stories about times that people have done nice things for you throughout your day.
- Point out nice things that people do for you or others like holding the door or letting you ahead in line.
- Thank people for doing their jobs.
2. Turn complaints into gratitudes. When your child complains about something, see if you can get them to also say something good. For example if he says, “I don’t like Grammy’s house because it’s boring.” You could ask about how she buys him special food he likes and other special things she does for him. Don’t let this turn into a battle, though. If the child makes one complaint, you can tell one positive thing and then move on to something else.
- What was your favorite part of the activity?
- What nice things did you see people doing?
- What positive thing will you remember about today?
3. Start a Gratitude Journal with Your Child
- Gratitude: 3 things I am grateful (thankful) for today
- Self Acknowledgement: 3 things I did well today
- Intention Setting: 1 intention for tomorrow
For the gratitude section, I encourage C to be specific. Instead of saying, “Savannah” (our cat), maybe say something like, “Cuddling with Savannah because it makes me feel better.”
- Say hi to a new person at school
- Try my best at Volleyball
- Be nicer to my brother
- Smile more