Yesterday, across the Internet, I saw #RandomActsofKindnessDay on most of the social media sites. Also, there were lots of news about children’s mental health and the Duchess of Cambridge being a guest editor of Huffington Post and launching #YoungMindsMatter. Those two important things made me think of how important the act of gratitude is in mindfulness.
What does gratitude mean?
the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Gratitude (being thankful) is a fundamental component of mindfulness. Teaching children (and adults) to be thankful for the the abundance in their lives as opposed to focusing on the actual material objects is not always readily accepted in our society.
We are a world of moaners. Whinging and moaning about everything from the weather to government is a favourite pastime of the young and old alike. We focus on the bad and are surprised by the good. This leads to a vicious cycle of negativity which then becomes the focus of our attention and anything positive is seen a just a fluke or fleeting moment.
By taking the time to be grateful and lingering in the grateful moment, we start to be mindful of the good things in the world. We start to see more positive things; positivity breeds positivity. We start to see the good in people, we crave it and, when we see it, we want to repeat even more good.
Having regular experiences of gratitude is associated with healthy psychological and social functioning (McCullough, Emmons & Tsang, 2002; Watkins, 2004).
If we teach gratitude/ thankfulness and allow it to grow, we support improvement of our children’s mental health and development of a positive life long skill.
How does a simple act of gratitude support our mental health and well being?
– Thankfulness leads to increased well-being and, especially, positive moods by increasing our general happiness that is lasting. The residual effects of happiness stay with us, particularly if we are mindful of the happiness and choose to “waddle” in happiness.
– The act of gratitude creates a shield that protects us from stress and negativity by decreasing our anxiety levels and feelings of depression.
– When we are grateful for people, it strengthens the relationships allowing us to feel more connected to the world.
How can we bring the act of gratitude into our classrooms to support mindfulness?
– #RandomActsofKindness– Start your own Random Acts of Kindness Day or Week. If you think your class will find it hard to come up with RAKs on their on, brainstorm with the class, put them on little slips of paper folded up and throw them into a hat. Allow each child to take one RAK. Without telling anyone what their RAK is, they complete the act within the given time period. After a few times, children will start doing RAKs without prompting. Remember, positivity breeds positivity!
-Gratitude object (stone, statue,something different) – During a circle time or PHSCE lesson, pass the object around and each person states one thing they are grateful for having In their lives and WHY. Change it up by have the person with the object tell the person to their right one thing they like about that person and WHY.
-Thankful wall/ display board/tree– Each day/week Have the children write on a post-it note what they are grateful for and put it on the board. Watching the gratitude grow gives children a visual link to gratitude.
– End each day with a positive thought– Have each child tell the class what is one thing they have learned that day or what was the best part of their day in school before they leave for the day. These positive thoughts follow them out the door and home.
-Gratitude/Thankful diary– Each child has their own diary that they write, draw or glue in things they are thankful for in their lives. In times of upset, they can look through their diaries to remind themselves of all the things that make them thankful.
-Thank you cards- Old school! But, it is a powerful tool allowing children a tangible outlet to show gratitude.
– Gratitude jars– At the beginning of the year, give each child their own jar. Each week, they write a little note with the date and what has made them grateful and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, they go home with a jar of positivity.
-Holiday Memories– After returning from a holiday, go around the room and invite everyone share one positive experience that happened while they were away.
We have to be models of gratitude. It is not enough to teach it. We must show it ourselves and, as a great side effect, improve our own mental health!
– Verbal Feedback– When you are giving verbal feedback, be explicit in your praise of the aspects that are good. Start your feedback with, “I want to give you a compliment/compliments.” Allow this to be taken in and the child realise that you are grateful for what they have done correctly. Children will start remembering the compliments as they are valued and repeated in more work.
– Say, “Thank you!”– Tell the children thank you and tell them WHY you are saying it.
– Show Gratitude– Be gracious and verbal about what you are thankful for often in the day. It allows this expression of positivity to be normalised and as easy as breathing.
Gratitude is a simple but effective way to develop a positive mindset for children and adults alike.
Share your strategies for instilling gratitude in your classroom or school in the comments below.