Teaching Your Student to be Grateful

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And all of a sudden it's back to school time for children of all ages. There is one habit I've learned as an adult that I wish I would have taught my children sooner as they entered school each fall: building the habit of gratitude.

Practicing intentional gratitude can be a game changer for helping your child build confidence, overcome stress, and help them focus on what matters. 

Research is finding that gratitude can be a powerful way to improve mental health, reduce stress and be more satisfied with the status quo. ~ Phycology Today

I didn't start teaching my kids how to practice intentional gratitude until my son entered college. He moved to the other side of the state, and soon began juggling school, a part-time job, his new social life, new living arrangements, and adjusting to being away from home. I noticed through our short weekly conversations that he was feeling overwhelmed and stressed trying to make it all work. Most of his updates focused on all that was going wrong. 

As a new college parent, I was feeling stressed out about it all too; mostly about how I could help him without lecturing or meddling. I was building the habit of gratitude in my own life, and decided to be start teaching it to my kids. 

What is gratitude and how does it help?

Gratitude is a way for us to discover and acknowledge the goodness in our lives, whether tangible or intangible.  It is the practice of being thankful for what we have - and what is going well, rather than dwelling on what we don’t have – or what isn’t going well. 

It's understandable that college will be challenging and stressful. And, if your student doesn't learn some tools to help manage it, the stress will only get worse over time. That can lead to illness, frustration and even depression. Practicing regular, intentional gratitude helps both your student and you. 

Tools to teach your college student intentional gratitude

Once I started reframing our weekly conversations and teaching my son to use positive energy and gratitude, I saw a difference in how he was coping. He was less focused on everything that was stressful and more focused on his successes – meeting a new friend, upgrading his dorm room,  doing well on a test. 

You'll soon notice the benefits your child will experience when they start to practice gratitude including a more positive mindset, more confidence, better health, reduced stress, and developing stronger relationships with friends and faculty.

Here are a few ideas you can use to encourage your student to try intentional gratitude.  

1. Be positive. 

When you talk to your student, always start by asking what’s going well in their life. Even if their college life is stressful or something bad happened, there is always something that is going well. Remind them of that and always start by being positive when you connect.

2. Model gratitude.

Talk regularly about what you are grateful for in relation to events happening in their life right now, as well as big picture ideas like family, friends, education.

3. Make a gratitude board.

Like a vision board, a gratitude board reminds us of all we love and appreciate in our lives.  It can be a simple poster board with pictures of friends, family, pets, favorite things (coffee, sports), and can include some favorite quotes. The idea is to see and be reminded of all you are grateful for. 

4. Encourage letters and cards of appreciation.

Notes of appreciation to a friend, faculty member, or someone that does something helpful or nice, is a great reminder of who is on your student’s side and supporting them. It’s a powerful way to demonstrate appreciation for others and sharing gratitude is almost as powerful as receiving it. Pro tip: Don't forget to send your student cards of appreciation and encouragement as well!

5. Start a gratitude jar.

Give your student a jar to put notes, tokens, happy thoughts and encourage them to use it to hold onto the good things going on in their life. They can write something down daily or weekly to add, or simply as things happen that they enjoyed and feel good about. 

6. Keep a gratitude journal of positive thoughts and feelings.

Encourage your student to keep a gratitude notebook or journal. Taking a few minutes to write down daily positive thoughts, even when things aren’t going well, will help your student be reminded of what is going well in their world. 

Since my experience with teaching gratitude to my son (and my daughter who was in high school at the time),  I've been keeping my own gratitude journal. It has had an incredible impact on my life. 

One of my favorite journal prompts is to simply list 3 good things that happen each day as well as what I’m grateful for in those moments. It can be anything - like seeing someone smile or hearing birds chirping outside while walking home after class.

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a guided journal, Intentional Gratitude.



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