I'm grateful (see what I did there) to Sara for sharing these timely thoughts about gratitude. Sara was my colleague for several years, and she's one of my favorite people. She's a compassionate college counselor, with admission bona fides from Hampshire College and Colorado College. Check out Mindset College Collective for some resources to help keep the college search sane. --MM
Modeling Gratitude for Our Teens
By Sara Purviance
Tis the season, but I've been thinking about gratitude this week. It’s no surprise that there are articles, studies, and books all about gratitude and its link to leading happier lives. In our busy achievement-oriented society, it’s particularly hard to teach and model gratitude for our children, and yet, it’s probably one of the most important lessons for them to gain the perspective to feel happy and fulfilled. I don't think I've been doing the greatest job modeling gratitude with my kids, so I'm committing myself to doing better.
Here are a couple ideas if you want to try along with me (bonus is that these will also help with a growth-filled and successful college admission process):
Revive the old-fashioned thank you note! Full disclosure: I have a terrible habit of thinking about writing thank you notes incessantly, not doing them for months, and then feeling terribly guilty when I don't.
This year I'm voting for letting go of the guilt and procrastination and just doing them in a timely manner. Maybe this will be my New Years resolution. I plan to write them with my kids. Yes, I'll have to make it a point to have my kids sit down at the table and write to their grandparents and teachers, but I truly think this practice has value. It's worth some grumbling. Every year, I get a few hand-written thank you notes from my students. They are so special and make me remember why I do what I do. Students who thoughtfully show gratitude really stand out.
Encourage your teen to write to people in their school community who have helped and supported them. If they are seniors, they should absolutely be formally thanking their teachers who wrote them letters of recommendation as well as their college counselor and anyone else who helped them along the way. A small gift is nice, but a hand-written note is all that's necessary to give and receive gratitude.
College-related bonus: If you have visited a college and had close interaction with a college admission counselor, a tour guide, or even a professor, encourage your teen to send them a note! While hand-written notes are nice, I think in this case (and for job interviews down the road) email is actually preferred since it's speedy and more likely to end up in the student's record.
Model simple gratitude in everyday conversations. Whether it's people in your life, opportunities, or basic human needs, mention it.
Don't lecture them on being ungrateful (I think we are all guilty of this) but instead tell them what you are grateful for frequently. Things like, wow, I was just thinking about how I'm grateful I have a job I love. Many people don't. Or I was just thinking about how grateful I am that Grandma and Grandpa are healthy and can spend time with us. Or: have you ever thought about the fact that we don't have to think about the fact that clean water comes out of our faucet? I'm grateful for that.
It does not have to be a long discussion, or a discussion at all. They will notice you noticing, and begin shifting their perspective on the world with you modeling empathy and gratitude.
College-related bonus: Kids that think about gratitude tend to have more empathy and be more self-aware. All of these qualities contribute to the strong character that colleges are hoping to fill their communities with. Gratitude comes across in college essays and interviews, and it helps young people develop the perspective and growth mindset to live happy and fulfilled lives.
Show gratitude for and to our teens. Along with showing gratitude for the broader world, don’t forget to show gratitude for them. This is perhaps the most important lesson, because it will be internalized most deeply by your child.
I am pretty good at telling my kids that I am grateful for them and grateful I get to be their mom, but I commit to increasing the frequency.
I also try my best to notice the small things they do for their siblings, parents and friends. Call them out for acts of kindness, and really any action that’s taken toward helping someone else. It doesn’t have to be an over-the-top display of praise. A simple, I noticed you took out the trash when it wasn’t your turn. Thank you. Or, I saw you comforting your sister after she had a bad day. You are a good brother.
It’s easy to brush over gratitude as fluff, or something to worry about later in life. But I believe it’s an essential part of developing the perspective, self-awareness, and empathy necessary to a fulfilling journey to building college, career, and family lives in which we thrive.
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