In my career at Google, I attended thousands of presentations by industry experts and motivational speakers. Many were filled with exciting ideas and new developments. I would often leave them feeling inspired, but also helpless, because the presenter didn’t provide any idea what to do next. Everyone needs a first step.
My favorite speakers were the ones who left the audience with at least one thing they could go back to their desks and do right away. That’s my goal for the parenting hacks series – each post should leave you with one thing (or more) you can easily do today. A lot has been written on the topic of mindfulness and mindful parenting. A key component of this approach is the idea that encouraging gratitude and giving in our children can actually help them feel happier. Kindness makes us happier and altruism is intrinsically rewarding. Therefore, the question becomes, how do we help our children learn to be thankful for what they have and develop the skill of kindness and giving to others?
I’ve enjoyed reading in this area over the last few years, and I’ve collected a number of actionable tips. Here are two small things you can do that will make a big difference.
Toddler: Create for someone else.
It’s so simple, it’s beautiful! When your toddler is coloring or making an art project, suggest that he / she create another work for someone else. Ask who he/she would like to make one for, and then write that person’s name and your child’s name on the drawing or project. Why add the names? It makes it personal and helps even small children feel that they are making a difference. My children always smile when they see their name on the paper and they almost always want to do another one from someone else.
School-age child: Change the question.
It’s so simple, it’s genius! This one is my favorite. What do we ask our kids every day when they come home from school? “How was school today?” And the response is invariably limited and vague. Then we get smarter and we ask, “What was your favorite thing you did at school today?” We get a slightly more detailed response and learn a little more.
But how about asking, “What’s something nice someone did today at school?” Wow! This one is a game changer. When I first read this suggestion, I thought it sounded so simple and smart but questioned whether my five-year-old daughter would really understand the question and be able to respond with any depth. The results were amazing and ranged from heartfelt to hilarious. Here are two responses that come to mind.
- She recounted a time when a child in her class had just returned after being away for some time early in the school year. When the teacher called for meeting time, the little girl could not remember or find her designated spot on the rug. Another child got up, took her hand to lead her to her spot. This was the first story she told me and I was so pleasantly surprised by the response – this was truly an act of kindness and my daughter recognized that. She went on to tell me that, while motivated by kindness, the second little girl couldn’t really help because she couldn’t remember where the spot was either!
- My daughter and a friend were using the computer in the classroom and gearing up to play a game on it. They both wanted to go first and were fighting over that. Then the friend stopped and let my daughter go first. Okay, not quite as heartwarming as the first example, but again, the recognition of someone else’s kind act and of the feeling of appreciation is what mattered.
This simple question has opened a window into her understanding and interpretation of kindness that I didn’t previously have. Not only is it fascinating to me as a parent and someone who is interested in brain development, but on a practical level it gives me a baseline from which to build and helps me to ask age- appropriate follow-up questions. It opens the door to conversation on this topic.
I’m grateful for the suggestion!
I hope you can make use of these two “first-step” ideas. And here are some additional resources, if you want to learn more about the benefits of gratitude:
Founder & CEO, Blinkbuggy