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Gratitude is not always easy but it is highly effective in improving emotional health. As a child, my mom required my siblings and I to write thank you cards for gifts we received. My mom was right there with us, writing her own thank you cards. She said that if someone took the time to buy us a gift, we should take the time to be thankful for it. Although I dreaded those thank you card writing sessions, it taught me a valuable lesson – acknowledge good things that come, in whatever form, and show gratitude for it. Now, as a parent of my own children I look for opportunities to show thankfulness through gratitude. I want to model gratitude for my children because I know it’s important as a parent. I also know from my 20 years as a psychotherapist, gratitude can radically improve negative emotions.

I’ve seen countless kids come into counseling sessions feeling down, stuck or unhappy about situations in their lives. After we discussed what wasn’t working, we would shift the focus to what is working and acknowledge gratitude for it. “At least my social life is good,” a child would say after failing a math test. “At least my parents are there for me,” another child would acknowledge after having a falling out with a friend. I have found, over the years, this ability to acknowledge the positive has made a profound improvement in the mental health of my patients. Being able to acknowledge both negative and positive emotions has helped kids see life isn’t all good or all bad. It’s a combination of both, and what you give attention to, grows.

Thanksgiving is a prime opportunity to introduce gratitude to your child or a child you are working with in a counseling setting. One of the techniques I have used in my office is called: My Grateful Three. Here’s how it works: ask your child to write three things they’re grateful for. Then, ask them to write 3 feelings they have about each thing. Finally, ask them make something for the person or thing they feel grateful.

For example: I’m grateful for my cat, my friend Ella and recess. I feel happy, joyful and loving about my cat. I feel playful, silly and peaceful about my friend Ella. I feel excited, confident and happy at recess. I choose to make a rose out of clay for my friend Ella to show gratitude for her.

This activity helps children learn how to identify positive things in their lives. We never want to overlook or avoid negative emotions but we also don’t want to stay stuck in negativity either. As a patient said to me recently, “If I keep focusing on being stuck in hole, I’ll never get out of the hole. There is light up there and if I keep my eyes on it, I can climb out.” Not bad for a twelve-year-old.

Kids are capable of amazing insights and transformations. As adults, we are too. This time of year, it’s important to show gratitude for our kids, our students, our families and even those who challenge us. This shift will help us see the good this holiday season and find joy in it, even within the stress. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving. I am thankful to all of you who have brought your kids to counseling each week, supported our business, bought our products and shared our info to others. It means so much.

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Gratefully,

Allison

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