The Science Of Gratitude And How Kids Learn How To Express It
By Lindsay Sibson
The dark. Extremely windy conditions. And today’s youth.
In no particular order, those are three of my fears.
Don’t get me wrong, I love kids… I made a decade long career out of working with children of all ages.
However, something about today’s youth frightens me. One of my friends gave their 12 year old son an iPod touch for his birthday, yet his kid threw a tantrum, because he wanted the iPhone 5. SAY WHAT?
As much as I would like to think of this as an isolated situation or even a “parenting issue,” I’ve seen it one too many times, because that is the reality of what kid’s face these days. My niece recently told me that the majority of the kids in her 6th grade classroom had iPhone 6’s!
In this day and age of “want” and acquiring “things,” it can be easy to lose site of two simple, yet profound, words… THANK YOU.
Incredible things happen to your body when you feel and express gratitude. From that warm and happy feeling deep within, to the wide smile and lighthearted spirit, giving THANKS simply feels good.
Beyond that fuzzy feeling is a scientific explanation for WHY you feel great when you are grateful. A neuroscientist at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Dr. Susan Ferguson, explains,
- Feelings of gratitude activate several parts of your brain, which light up when you feel and express thanks:
Furthermore, Dr. Ferguson says that:
“Research shows that gratitude is linked with feelings or reward, improved sleep and decreased depression and anxiety. There are measurable benefits to mental health and interpersonal relationships when humans feel gratitude.”
Feelings of gratitude are also capable of releasing hormones in your brain that are linked with social behavior.
“When we feel gratitude, the brain produces oxytocin, a hormone important to bonding. It’s the same hormone that mothers release after birth and that is found in breast milk. That feeling of thankfulness helps humans stay close to each other,” says Dr. Ferguson.
In another study conducted by the University of Southern California, participants were asked to imagine how they would feel if someone saved them from a tragic situation by giving them food, clothing, or shelter. In this case, research shows that even more advanced parts of the brain are linked with gratitude.
When you verbalize thoughts of gratitude, or even hear stories of people helping each other, your prefrontal cortex is activated. This area of the brain is associated with decision-making, moral cognition and positive emotions.
Teaching Gratitude To Children
Birthday’s, holidays and celebrations – OH MY!
It’s at major events like these that children often learn to say ‘thank you’ and express gratitude. However, you should take it one step further and look for small teachable moments throughout your daily life, such as thanking someone who helped you find something at the store.
As a pediatrician and researcher at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Dr. Megan Moreno thinks these are the moments that count in teaching gratitude to your children.
“If your spouse sets the table while you cook, that’s a good times to say ‘thank you’ and model the behavior for your child. Do the same thing when you’re out. Make sure your child sees you thank the person who rings you up at the grocery store. Children will learn the behavior and feel comfortable expressing thanks in that day-to-day environment.”
Gratitude is for people of ALL ages and no one is ever too young or too old to learn to give thanks. To some, gratitude comes naturally, but that may not always be the case. Parents should continually model the behavior they want their children to embrace and learn.
Okay, so this may work for young children… BUT what about your stubborn and moody teenager?
Being a teenager is an awkward time in life – PERIOD. What can be even more awkward as a teenager is expressing feelings. However distant your teenager may seen, do know that they are absorbing your emotional cues and actions.
“Even when they seem emotionally distant, teens observe their parents as role models. If you express gratitude to your teenager and hear little in return, know that your thankfulness does register in your teen’s mind,” says Dr. Moreno.
Expressing gratitude comes in many forms. From verbal declarations to written notes, the intention is the same. Gratitude holds a high position in how you relate to other people. Therefore, make it your mission to give thanks and express your gratitude each and everyday!
Here are 15 Ideas for expressing gratitude that you can start using TODAY:
1. Tell someone face to face how much they mean to you.
2. Send a postcard.
3. Put a sticky note somewhaere random (check out Operation Beautiful).
4. Write a THANK YOU note and send it in the mail.
5. Pack a meal to give to someone in need.
6. Simple smile for EVERYONE to see – it’s contagious.
7. Donate your books.
8. Pay for the person’s coffee in line behind you.
9. Share an experience with someone you love – perhaps a sunset stroll!
10. Take a coat you never wear and give it to someone on the street.
11. Give a genuine compliment to someone you barely know (waiter, bank teller, etc.).
12. Open a door for someone.
13. Leave a huge tip.
14. Leave an anonymous donation of whatever you can afford.
15. Exhibit patience, even if you are in a hurry
Spread gratitude now by SHARING this article with your family, friends and coworkers.
Source: Seattle Children’s
Lindsay Sibson turned her lifelong dream of traveling the world into a reality when she first stepped on a plan in April of 2014. With the simple intention of learning more about this beautiful world, she stepped away from corporate America to explore an alternative lifestyle of long term international travel, volunteering, blogging and pursuing a blissfully happy and fulfilling way of life.
Lindsay documents her journey in hopes of empowering others to find their passion, reignite their spark and freshen their outlook on life. Connect with her on her website and follow her travels on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/_traveloholic_).
Through her blog, Lindsay documents her journey in hopes of empowering others to find their passion, reignite their spark and freshen their outlook on life.
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