“G” is for Gratitude: What I Wish I Knew When I was Younger

“G” is for Gratitude: What I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger
By Amanda Schmid

Happy mother and baby laying on meadow

Last week on our favorite turkey-filled holiday, I decided to ditch the usual feasting and yummy indulgences I usually partake in on this day with friends, and ventured to Downtown Los Angeles to volunteer. I helped serve a Thanksgiving meal that fed thousands of people who were unable to provide such a feast for their families. The event was massive and quite an eye-opener for me. What struck me the most was the pure happiness of the children that were present that day. I started thinking about my own problems that I had been dwelling on recently, and began reprimanding myself for not being thankful enough for the comforts I possess such as a warm apartment, a bed with a squishy egg crate mattress topper to sleep on, and delicious food to eat every single day.

After leaving the event, I spent some time thinking about what this holiday is suppose to represent: gratitude. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D, is one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, and runs the Youth Gratitude Project at UC Berkeley. His research tells us that gratitude is not only essential to our mental health, but actually strengthens our physical health as well and can add years on to our lifespan. Being grateful for the bad times in addition to the good ones can help us to create happiness, handle crisis, alleviate stress, and prevent depression. I personally wish that I could have learned some of these coping tactics when I was younger, and I realize now how it is just as important to teach children skills such as these as it is to teach spelling and mathematics.

According to Emmons, children who practice being grateful will be involved in 13% fewer fights, will be 20% more likely to achieve higher grades, and ten times less likely to start smoking cigarettes at a young age. It has taken me awhile to really understand that the hard times in life help us to identify, understand, and appreciate the incredible times. I think we could set up the next generation of youth for a lifetime of success by teaching them to grasp this concept at a young age.

There are several ways you can begin to practice gratitude with your little ones. I have a few ideas to share, but feel free to expand and get creative, and let me know what you come up with! Help them to start a journal. I prefer old school notebooks and gel pens, but in the event your children are already internet savvy, you could create a family blog. Every day, encourage your children to record one thing in their journal they feel grateful for, even if it is as simple as the experience of enjoying a car ride to school with a parent, or indulging with their favorite cookie after dinner (and how that much more magical it seems to taste when you find a quiet corner to eat it in alone). I don’t think it’s ever too early to start teaching a child how magnificent and peaceful a hot shower can truly be (one of my personal favorites). Writing down these simple moments is a great exercise that helps us to individually acknowledge precious elements of our lives that we ordinarily might allow to slip by without the recognition they deserve. The next time your family members partake in said activity, I guarantee they will be much more likely to appreciate it in the moment, and therefore able to fully enjoy the warm and fuzzy feelings that will accompany it. Eventually, being able to flip through the pages in your journals and read all of these entries at once will be an immensely satisfying activity that all of you will appreciate.

Another practice that I wish I had learned at a younger age is meditation. Meditation can be extremely beneficial when exploring feeling grateful for your life. Most likely kids will only be fascinated with this activity for a couple of minutes, but take advantage of their attention span while you can. Spend some time with them when they are at their most relaxed, whether it is in the morning upon waking, or right before bedtime. Instruct them to simply breathe and think about something in their life that makes them feel lucky. It does the mind wonders, I promise.

I know hectic work and school schedules make this easier said than done, but volunteering is a great way to teach gratitude. If you can find spare time to donate to someone in need, I highly recommend it. It can benefit your own family, and of course the people you are helping. Reading to children or serving food at a soup kitchen can open the eyes of your own tots to how blessed they may actually be.

Last, but not least, please always show gratitude for your own life. Kids are imitators, and seeing their role model as a shining example of someone who feels full and in love with their life can teach a million lessons. Instead of reacting with anger and sadness in negative situations, show your children that these are normal occurrences in life that are unavoidable, and that the good times thankfully make up for these rotten ones. Teach them that by picturing their loved ones and the things they feel grateful for, they can persevere through the annoyances and tribulations of life with more ease.

When I think back about those children at the feast, I feel happy for them. I wish for them to move forward in life and remember these times, and how if they were happy and thankful for a simple meal, they can indeed be grateful for the rest of their story that has yet to be written. While yes, it is important to learn addition and subtraction, I think it is even more imperative we teach kids these valuable lessons. Advise your offspring that everything good that happens is great, and everything bad that happens is a good lesson or story. So in the end, everything is good.

For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org .

annabellesmallAmanda Schmid graduated from California State University, Northridge and works at Well Baby Center.

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What Does It Mean to Parent Mindfully?

What Does It Mean to Parent Mindfully?
By Deborah Groening, MFT, Founder, Well Baby Center

The subject of attachment relationships, which is a developmental theory, and Dr. Sear’s model of parenting he named “attachment parenting,” are two completely different constructs. Attachment parenting encourages “baby-wearing,” co-sleeping, and breast-feeding on demand for as long as the child desires. Attachment theory, on the other hand, is research conducted by developmental psychologists, which defines the different attachment styles – secure, anxious/ambivalent, dismissive/preoccupied, and disorganized.

Attachment parenting has no research basis — it is just a way of parenting that appears to create a secure attachment in the child – but it can go too far. Attachment theory states that it is just as important for a parent to be able to tolerate their child’s struggles as it is to providing a comforting connection. Struggle is a valuable and necessary condition to encourage resiliency and flexibility in your child. It is crucial for your child to be able to see that things can sometimes go awry, but no worries, they will be set right again. Without this experience, the capacity for self-regulation, through rupture and repair, will be hampered. In the attachment world, there is a saying: “whenever you can, follow your child’s lead, but when necessary, be bigger, wiser, and stronger.” Using your own mind, you determine when one response is required over another approach. It is a dynamic and flexible thinking and feeling or reflective function that determines your mindful response. There is no one hard and fast rule.

To parent mindfully requires an inner awareness and self-compassion. We must try to give our children the idea that they are loved both when they are needy and clingy and also when they push us away in their striving for autonomy and independence. The desire for safety and security and the desire to be independent are two equal aspects of a child’s development and both are necessary to develop a secure attachment to their parent. The parent must encourage and scaffold, but should not help their child to the degree that the child does not experience the exhilaration of first struggling to achieve a new skill and then achieving success.

Our children are different from us, with their own unique needs and wants, personalities and temperaments. Our own childhoods, and especially whether we have made meaning out of our disappointments and struggles are profoundly related to how we parent. In doing our own inner work we make space in our minds to be curious about who our children are, and what they need from us. We can help them feel “felt”, “validated” and strong by not solving their problems for them but rather by bearing their struggle with them. This is the true definition of mindful parenting.

Our hardest job in the world is being able to digest, think about, and bear witness to their sometimes-intense rages, without collapsing under the sheer weight of them. Parenting mindfully, then, regardless of whether you have a Caesarian or home birth, whether you breast or bottle feed, co-sleep, sleep train, carry, hold, or walk beside your child, is the key factor.

The awareness of your own intentions and the accurate reading of your child’s underlying needs and intentions (the skillfulness of parental reflective function) is the goal. By using reflective parenting in daily life with your child and partner, and by practicing loving kindness with yourself, your child, and your partner as you respect their dignity to try and fail, try and fail, and then finally, succeed, is, in my view, the key to family bliss.

For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org.

annabellesmallDeborah Groening is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Psy.D. Candidate and Certified Infant-Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Executive Director of Well Baby Center.

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