In a recent blog, I shared Dr. Marti Seligman’s research on post-traumatic stress, a project which called attention to the fact that many soldiers return from combat better than before. At the other end of the Bell Curve from post-traumatic stress, these folks actually experience what Seligman terms, “post-traumatic growth.” Enduring very difficult times, they come to know they are stronger than they’d thought; that they can be cool under fire; that they can help others survive. In short, hardship helps them to grow.
Wouldn’t we ALL want that for our kids (and ourselves)?
Returning again to Seligman’s study, we find that his team has identified 5 factors which are common to folks who experience post-traumatic growth:
■A sense of hope
Giving each of the components some attention could lead us to thinking of ways to encourage our kids during life’s challenging times. In the last blog, we began by considering HOPE. In this blog, let’s focus on GRATITUDE.
Gratitude is getting a lot of attention these days since it is one of the prime indicators of happiness. Additionally, many of us have come realize it is an excellent antidote to “AFFLUENZA,” that wicked illness which weasles its way into our psyches! Gratitude is sometimes considered to be the opposite of entitlement. If yours is like most families, you could stand some relief from youth entitlement! But here’s what’s really amazing: Gratitude has a variety of benefits from increasing life satisfaction and hope to lowering depression and anxiety! It shouldn’t surprise us that, like so many other mental practices, gratitude becomes a habit (as does its opposite). Here are some ways to integrate gratitude more often into the daily life of your family.
- Challenge family members to express gratitude to someone each day. That could include other family members, teachers, neighbors, parents of friends…imagine the possibilities. One leader who worked with a group of boys got frustrated with “put downs.” She instituted a policy that for any put down a boy made, he had to “fix it” with they came to call “put ups,” expressions of appreciation.
- Use saying grace at dinner as a time to hit the gratitude “reset” button. Begin the habit of giving thanks for three things since the last meal. Rotate who’s in charge of giving thanks. Things we’re grateful for might include having someone else make dinner; being pleased we don’t have to eat dog food; delighting that we have a sense of smell; being appreciative that we have clients who pay their bils; being relieved that test day is over! It’s a good idea to have adults participate in giving thanks so kids can hear parents model gratitude.
- Keeping a Gratitude Journal allows kids to write down three things they’re grateful for each day. An additional benefit can arise if, after each item they list, they add how they were active in helping bring that “blessing” into their own lives. E.g. by going to school, I learned my math so I made a good grade; my music teacher gave me a brownie because I went to the effort to practice my lesson. Remember “agency” from the previous blog? It’s powerful to link gratitude (good things in my life) to agency (something I’m doing is helping good stuff come to me).
- Another excellent way to cultivate the habit of gratitude is to write a Gratitude Letter expressing thanks to someone in our life. I must confess to assigning this as a “consequence” when one of my kids had a stinky attitude (read: entitled little snot!). It could also be a once-a-week or once-a-month family conversation for each member to share their own gratitude letter with the family.
- And of course, then you could take the next step, a Gratitude Visit. I double-dog dare you (or your kids) to write the letter, then make a date to visit the person about whom it was written and VISIT that person and read the letter. Talk about creating a vortex of positivity! Everyone should do this at least once in their life….or once a week, whichever you need!
Of all the positive mental attributes, gratitude has the highest therapeutic value. If you want your child to come down on the post-traumatic GROWTH part of life, teach them and model for them the awesome habit of GRATITUDE.
(If you’re reading this from another country, please let me know how you came to this blog and how/if you’re finding it valuable. Thanks for reading!)