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Thursday, April 12, 2018
How to Raise More Grateful Children - roel Of Gratitude & Happiness, WSJ
gratitude isn’t a one-off “thank you.” It’s a mind-set, a way of seeing the world"
The researchers also measured antisocial and prosocial behaviors. They asked the students to rate how often (never, sometimes, often) they “stuck up for another kid who was in trouble,” for example, or made “a kid upset because you were mean to them.” The researchers looked as well at the students’ satisfaction with different aspects of their lives (school, self, family friends), how much support they received from family and friends, and their levels of empathy and self-regulation.
The study found that a growth in gratitude over the four years not only predicted a growth in prosocial behavior, it also predicted a decrease in negative social behavior compared with students whose gratitude levels stayed level or decreased. Being grateful might “undercut the motives for acting antisocially among adolescents,” the researchers suggest.
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Students who were more grateful were also better at managing their lives and identifying important goals for the future, says lead researcher Giacomo Bono, assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. “When adolescents regularly express gratitude,” he adds, “it’s a good litmus test that they’re thriving.”
Grateful adolescents enjoy stronger relationships with their peers, in part perhaps because their positive disposition makes them more attractive and likable. In a 2015 study published in the journal Emotion, researchers conducted an experiment with 70 undergraduate students. They found that acquaintances were more likely to want to stay in touch with a student who expressed gratitude toward them (in writing) than students who didn’t show appreciation. Grateful students were perceived by peers as having a warmer personality and being more friendly and thoughtful.
Adolescents who rate higher in gratitude tend to give and receive more social support from family and friends.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
As parents, we do our best to teach our children to be grateful, by doing things such as nagging them to writing thank you notes. Experts warn, however, that our best efforts can backfire and actually become a barrier to genuinely experiencing gratitude. Children need to learn how to “think” gratefully, they say, not just to mindlessly go through the motions of giving thanks.
Ms. Cormier says that she has worked hard to make gratitude a family habit since her children were little—and now it has become the norm. She encourages finding gratitude in the “everyday stuff,” she says, not just in response to birthday and Christmas presents. She also tries to teach gratitude by example. When her children help out around the house, like noticing when the trash is full and taking it out, or holding the door open, she thanks them. And now, she says, “my kids thank me every single time I put fresh sheets on their bed,” chaperone a field trip or make them dinner.
In a paper published in 2014 in the journal School Psychology Review, researchers describe an educational program that they developed to train elementary-school students, ages 8 to 11, in gratitude. More than 200 students participated. Half were assigned to a control condition, while the other half were assigned to the gratitude intervention, which some received for one week and others for more than five. The program’s lessons included, for example, reading “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein and asking students to write down one thing they would do to show the generous tree in the story that they were grateful for what she had done.
Researchers found that students who received the training, even for just one week, were not only better at “thinking” gratefully, they also reported experiencing more grateful emotions and greater increases in positive social behavior (such as writing thank-you notes) and emotional well-being than students in the control group. When researchers followed up five months later with students who had stayed in the program longer, these positive effects had continued to grow. With intentional practice, experts say that gratitude can move from a fleeting state to a habit and can eventually become a personality trait.
Casey Rummel, an 11th-grade English teacher at Leadership Public Schools in Richmond, Calif., used the gratitude curriculum in his class as part of an upcoming study. It made such an impact that he’s continuing to use it even though the study ended.
Using a computer program developed by their school, students spend the first four minutes of each class expressing gratitude to their classmates in writing. These notes have included such simple messages as: “thanks for always being there bro appreciate it much love” or, “Thanks for being a welcoming person....” Some of the notes Mr. Rummel has read, particularly between the boys, are things “they likely wouldn’t feel comfortable saying out loud,” he says.
The research points to several ways that parents can help children to think gratefully. Parents can spur their children to appreciate and reflect on the time and thought behind the gifts and kindness they receive, as in: “Jack really knows how much you love football. How thoughtful that he gave you a jersey of your favorite team” or “Wow, Grandma just took a five-hour train ride to come and see you perform in that play.”
A turning point for the Welch family came when they started volunteering as a family to assist poverty-stricken communities, at home and overseas. Two years ago, her daughter went on a volunteer trip to help rebuild homes in rural Texas. One house had floors so rotted that you could see the ground. When her daughter came home, Ms. Welch says, she got down and hugged the floor and said, ‘I’ve never been grateful for a floor, but now I am.’”
Last year, Kathryn Virmani, mother of two from Westfield, N.J., helped to organize a fundraiser with an educational component at her children’s school to teach responsible citizenship and encourage gratitude. “A bad day for kids in our town is a parent not letting them use their Xbox,” she says. The students raised money for Heifer International, a nonprofit that aids struggling communities world-wide. When the kids heard some of the villages had no access to water or electricity, they asked “ ‘why don’t the people just go to the supermarket?’ The very thought that supermarkets don’t exist in some places was an eye-opener,” says Ms. Virmani.
For some parents, a good starting point is simply to set a better example themselves. In the Templeton poll, less than half of respondents said that they express thanks or gratitude daily to their spouse or partner.
It’s also important for children—and adults—to notice and acknowledge the larger circle of people who benefit their lives, like the school secretary or janitor, says Dr. Weissbourd. “In a society that has become so splintered and self-focused,” he says, “gratitude is a common bond and offers one of the best ways for us to connect with one another.”
Ms. Wallace is a freelance writer in New York City.
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