Most people remember being taught to express their thanks for gifts received and services rendered. Thank you notes to relatives, tips to restaurant servers, saying “thank you” to store clerks, cab drivers, and other helpers characterize the behavior of polite people everywhere.
But practicing gratitude is more than manners. It’s an act of mindfulness that benefits both the giver and the receiver. Each experiences a spike in dopamine, the feel good hormone with stress reducing properties.
Like other mindfulness techniques, practicing gratitude reduces anxiety by allowing the mind to attend to only the present moment. This makes it an invaluable resource for traumatized children who are often stuck in the past or obsessively worried about the future.
It’s not hard to do. It just takes time and practice.
Start by teaching children to notice when their minds wander away from an activity or task they were previously involved in. Where does it go? How do they bring it back?
Share stories about what causes your own attention to slip. Tell children about the techniques you use to return to the present moment. Let them know what helps you center yourself when you’re tempted to spin out of control with worry or regret.
Find ways of practicing gratitude together. Here are some strategies to try:
Start each morning by telling each other one thing you are grateful for.
Use index cards to make gratitude notecards. Simply print “Thank you” at the top of each card. Then surprise one another with short gratitude notes stuck in lunchboxes, coat pockets, and under pillows at the least expected times.
Take pictures of people and things you are grateful for.
Agree on a few key words you can use to encourage one another to interrupt a negative spiral and return to the present moment.