A grateful heart is transformational. It changes how we view ourselves and the world around us. Albert Einstein recognized that “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Taking time to recognize the miracles in our lives helps us have an increasingly positive perspective. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D is a professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. The focus of his career is the study of gratitude, and his research confirms that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression (Forbes). However, thankfulness is not a natural posture for most people. We get caught up in the stressors and downsides of our lives, and easily forget the things that are going well. As a family, commit to practicing gratitude. You will be surprised how much the simple act of routine thankfulness will improve the overall health of your family.
TIPS: Start a family gratitude journal, thankfulness board, or sharing time. Ask your family members about the best part of their day or ask about something they enjoyed during the day. This will help shed light on the things they are grateful for!
2. Quality Time
How often do you intentionally focus all of your attention on your family? It is easy for traditional family time to be fraught with distraction. Family members may have their phones out at the dinner table or mom may be too worried about food preparation to enjoy the time together. Research supports that quality time - not overall time - contributes to positive outcomes for children in areas like academics and confidence (Wall Street Journal).
TIPS: Encourage temporary no-phone zones, prompt rich conversation, and model what it looks like to be fully present with your spouse and children. Let your children plan a family mini-vacation and fully support their ideas - even if they are not what you would choose for yourself.
In a culture that values immediate results and swift success, it can be difficult to show children the benefits of perseverance and quality work. In a 1990 study, willingness to delay gratification as a child (patience for a greater reward later over a lesser reward now) was an indicator of success later in life (Shoda, Mischel, & Peake). Furthermore, a later study shows that when outcomes are reliable, children are more willing to delay gratification in favor of a better reward (Kidd, Palmeri, & Aslin). This means that in order to help our children develop delayed gratification and diligence, we need to create an environment with predictable results. For example, if you tell your child that they can play with their favorite toy after cleaning up for 15 minutes, be sure to always fulfil the promised reward.
TIPS: Start small. Begin by delaying gratification with something manageable and easy, like giving your child a sticker after they complete one homework problem. Then, you can slowly pursue more difficult tasks like delaying the gratification of watching TV until after your child has finished all of their homework and/or chores.
4. Bed Time
According to the National Sleep Foundation, “about two-thirds (63%) of Americans say their sleep needs are not being met during the week.” Adequate sleep produces many benefits including improved productivity, cheerfulness, and positive emotions. Help your family build better relationships and individual character by practicing the habit of good sleep.
TIPS: Set a bedtime and stick to it. It can be tempting to push bedtime back - especially for special occasions - but consider how that decision will disrupt the sleep patterns that you have worked hard to establish. Often, delaying bedtime results in a cranky family the next day.
An inquisitive, questioning mind is essential for learning. Curiosity can increase our happiness, achievement, empathy, and relationships (Greater Good Magazine). When we feel rushed or don’t feel like we have a knowledgeable answer, it is tempting to shut down questions from our children. Instead, we should be encouraging tough-to-answer questions and modeling how to wrestle with things we don’t fully comprehend.
TIPS: Ask your children what questions they had at school that day, or if there was anything they didn’t understand. Watch a TV program together and ask questions that require you to summarize what you watched, compare/contrast ideas, and critique opinions. Ask “I wonder if…?” questions to show your child that you are still an active learner and that you don’t have all the answers.
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