Recently, I found myself overwhelmed with negativity just by listening to a half hour of TV. I found that no matter what I was listening to, there were overwhelming negative messages and predictions, hurtful behaviors, and feelings of helplessness. I paused and thought how widespread these thoughts and words are currently for all of us, our children included. If it is bringing me down, what is all this negativity doing to our children? I started to think, I need to flip-flop the negative into the positive. Now seems like a good time, too, with Thanksgiving coming. So, it’s time to take action.
Research on Positive Psychology shows that highlighting moments of gratitude can alleviate the focus on negative emotions and experiences. So I set a goal for myself, making it small and do-able so I did not feel overwhelmed.
My goal: focus on gratitude for myself and with my children. Each day I reflect on something I appreciate. Today I appreciated visiting with my friend and her family, watching my kids toss the football with their grandfather, sharing a humorous moment with my teenager. I take a moment to reflect on these events and visualize or repeat the events in my mind. Today, I quickly wrote these moments in a notebook I have next to the bed. Some people prefer to journal, some to voice-record on their smartphone. Any recording method for tracking these moments works, but having a record to look back at helps us know that there is much to be grateful for every day. The record helps me to fully feel the positive emotions that I associated with the events now and in the future and I can use the record to brighten my mood when I feel down.
Then I ask my children to focus on moments they are grateful for during their day. Just thinking about these moments shifts focus from the negative to the positive. Here are some easy ideas to help with finding gratitude:
- Give each person a chance at the family dinner table to say something they are grateful for and have one person make a list for all to see
- Have children write what they are thankful for on a slip of paper and place the papers in a jar (see how full the jar gets at the end of the week and celebrate that)
- Keep a weekly list on a dry erase board for each person and at the end of the week revisit those moments
- Make a paper chain with a moment we are grateful for on each link and make a goal to stretch that chain around the family gathering place
- Make a video diary of the moments and film children talking about the moments and watch them at another family time
Remember to make it fun and easy – children can dictate to you so you can write it down, they can draw a picture, they can write one word (spelling doesn’t count), or they can write a full sentence. Ask your children to come up with ways to track their gratitude. Sometimes they come up with the most creative and fun ways!
Another side effect of talking to my children about gratitude is that I am spending time with them, listening to them, reflecting with them, laughing with them. In other words, I am building my relationship with them. Relationships are a cornerstone for building inner strength and feeling happy. When I spend the time with my children with no distractions, I know they feel connected to and needed in the family and their community. I want that relationship now because it will help them know they can come to me when they need help or comfort in the future. I also know that if they have a positive relationship with me, they are more likely to have a positive relationship with others.
I will continue to focus on gratitude to flip that negative into the positive. I have a feeling that I and my children will feel happier for it!