Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

Tis the season to teach our children to be thankful and give generously to others. We live in a truly blessed nation, full of security, hope and daily blessings. Being thankful and showing gratitude is not only contagious, but also has an impact on one’s overall attitude. Research is showing that this improved attitude, not only positively impacts the brain, but also gives a fresh perspective on our current status.

Ideas for teaching thankfulness are vast and easy to come across. A few resources and ideas are these. Don’t be afraid to incorporate your own gratitude and appreciation traditions. In the younger grades you can start with a simple composition book and write even a simple sentence such as: I am thankful for ______________. Older students should be able to expand on what they are thankful for and write a reason for why that item, person, or situation is a blessing to them. Whatever it is that they are thankful for in on the particular day, make sure it is specific. The more details that they can give for what they are thankful for, the more they will see the blessing that lies within. Also encourage the kids to look beyond the obvious big items (Mom, Dad, house) and look to those things that may seem small, but truly do have an impact (lunch, clothes, toys). At the end of the week, month, or season you can share with a group of students which of the blessings were their favorite or meant the most and why.

After the holiday season comes to a close is a perfect time to extend the thoughts of thankfulness. Teach your students the art of how to write a thank you letter for the gifts that they received over the holidays. Keeping the idea of thankfulness, as an ongoing journal, will give the students a keepsake of events, people, and activities that happened for years to come and foster continual gratitude for the remainder of the year. If you would like more ideas on gratitude with your students, visit: “Gratitude Activities for the Classroom,” by Vicki Zakrzewski of the Greater Good Science Center.

When we are aware of the multiple blessings we have, we are more apt to want to give generously to others. Opportunities are endless this holiday time of year, of reaching beyond ourselves and helping those less fortunate. Contacting local charities, churches, and organizations can help students reach out to other children in their community to influence and bless this season. Training our children to look beyond themselves, and realize the potential that they possess of positively impacting someone else.
Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Jeffrey Froh give evidence that focusing on thankfulness and giving to others improves the lives of students and adults.

Keeping a gratitude journal on a daily basis helps students and adults achieve the following:
• Higher grades
• Higher goals
• More satisfaction with relationships, life, and school
• Less materialism
• More willingness to give back.
• Be more optimistic
• Have less envy and depression
• Have fewer physical complaints
• Sleep better.

Creating active attitudes of being grateful for all that we have and giving generously to those in need do not need to be isolated during the holiday season. These are life skills and behaviors we should be instilling and fostering into our children year round. Not only are there positive emotional results but also positive physical results seen in recognizing the blessings around us, but also in giving generously to bless others. We are teaching our children to look beyond themselves and realize the potential they possess to have an impact on others. Whether our children are looking at what has been given to them or training them to give to others; we are training this generation that life is filled with elements that they need to be appreciative for and that they have the power to bless another.

Robert Emmons, How Gratitude Can Get You Through Hard Times,Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, May 13, 2013.
Jeffrey J. Froh, William J. Sefick, Robert A. Emmons, Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being, Journal of School Psychology 46 (2008), pp.213-233 (PDF, 410KB).
Jeffrey J. Froh, Robert A. Emmons, Noel A. Card, Giacomo Bono, Jennifer A. Wilson, Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism in Adolescents, Journal of Happiness Studies, Volume 12, No. 2, 2011 (PDF, 356KB).
Vicki Zakrzewski, Gratitude Activities for the Classroom, Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, November 19, 2013.


Fun Family Apps

If you have a smart phone, tablet, computer, or a child in the home, not only are you familiar with apps, you probably have your favorites. Apps help entertain, be efficient and offer a way to be organized. Although it is estimated that 300 new apps are created every day, the concept and word are not new to our society. I never would have guessed that the word app has been part of the Webster Dictionary since 1987.

There is a specific app that has generated a bit of competition in our household. The entire house is playing. What is it? Many of you will not be surprised to find that it is a game that comes in many different forms: Candy Crush, Free Fall, Maleficent, or Bejeweled. It really is all the same game just with different graphics or helps. It is no wonder that you have most likely heard of these games, or perhaps are even playing them. The Candy Crush empire is reported to make $850,000 per day in app purchases and yearly reports revenue of over $3.1 billion!

Although these games are all the same minus the graphics, they have redemptive value as well. I appreciate the fact that this game, no matter which version, requires you to control your impulsive nature and create strategies to complete the level. One has to intentionally see where the errors were and correct behavior in hopes of passing the level the next time. On some levels you really have to narrow the mental field in order to gain success, while on others the broadening of the mind is what will help you succeed. Sharing ideas of strategies is beneficial because it gets the whole family talking about why a particular strategy worked or failed. In our house we also receive the life lesson of waiting. We do not allow app purchases, so if you run out of lives, you have to wait the time allotment to renew and begin again. My children take this time to compare which level they are on, and discuss strategies that are successful and why. They also will team up and help each other complete a level, letting two minds work together over one.

I am not a fan of spending a considerable amount of time on “buttons”. We have hard limits set in our household as to how much technology is allowed. However, if you want a game that the whole family can play, that can also stimulate cognitive thinking, then any of these are worth a try. The best part – they are free, unless of course you purchase a power-up or more lives.


Special Talents

The other night, my thirteen year old and I were flipping through the channels looking for something to watch. He stumbled upon the television version of Forrest Gump. Not having seen the film in quite some time, I became interested and watched with him.

From the very beginning of the film, you know that Forrest is special. There is a scene where the principal tells Mrs. Gump that Forrest does not have an average IQ. Fairly close to this scene, Forrest is taunted for being different. As I watched the scene unfold on my television, it struck me that Forrest is not much different than some of the students that come into my office. They too have lower IQ’s. There are those that feel the need to feel better about themselves by picking on our students who struggle to defend themselves.

At first, Forrest does struggle to defend himself. Luckily for him, he has Jenny. Jenny is his protector. Jenny is Forrest’s true friend. While the bullies are throwing rocks at Forrest, Jenny encourages him to run. “Run, Forrest – RUN!” And run he did. In a situation that he had no control over, Forrest found strength and a skill that he was good at. The leg braces that he was wearing break away and he has the ability to run and run fast.

Forrest discovers a talent that has nothing to do with the numbers in his IQ. He has a strength in something that makes him special and standout. He is not necessarily encouraged to use this strength until he is admitted into college, to play football. Throughout his life, this special talent serves him well and helps him succeed in a multitude of challenges.

This got me thinking…. Where are my student’s special talents? What do they succeed at that has nothing to do with the numbers represented in their IQ’s or Woodcock Johnson tests? What can I do to encourage and support them to use  these skills? It also got me to recognize and utilize the “Jennys” in my student’s lives. Who are they? What do they like to do together? How can I help my student and their “Jenny” build a lifetime friendship?

One of my students is a Forrest Gump. She can run and make it look effortless. Other contenders around her are huffing, puffing, and gasping for air. Not her. She starts off much like the tortoise and finishes like a hare. This is her special gift. Another student can break bricks with his hands in Karate. I marvel at the videos he will show me of his strength and skill. He laughs at my inability to correctly grunt while trying to strike the air. One of my students is best friends with a fellow therapy student. They are two peas in a pod. When we can, we arrange for them to challenge each other in Keywo. We try and have them cross paths to let them know they are not alone on this educational journey.

Forrest Gump has challenged me. It reminded me to look at our kids and the talents that they have, not the numbers that they do not have. It  reminded me to see the person God has created them to be, rather than what society may want or expect them to be. I need to remember that each of my students has an inner strength. I need to celebrate the successes outside of my therapy session as well as inside. I need to remember that my students, with God’s help and guidance, will turn out just fine, much like Forrest did. I need to enjoy my box of chocolates in what I call my students.

The most wonderful time of the year

I am not a person who sings Christmas carols all  year long.  I am a traditionalist that believes these favored songs have a season that runs from the day after Thanksgiving till night of Christmas, much to my daughter’s disappointment.  However, I find myself thinking of this song now….

As a therapist, it seems to me, that this is the most wonderful time of the year professionally.  It is not due to the fact that my senses are on high summer alert, although let’s be honest I know exactly how many school days are left.  But rather, I appreciate this time of the year for the growth that is seen in my students.  As I am busily filling out the scores to the Woodcock Johnson, creating annual reports, looking at testing results, preparing for parent meetings, I am constantly reminded of just how much my students have grown this year.

There are times when  I am frustrated at the lack of growth, I perceive is happening.  Moments when it is down right hard to see the forest through the trees.  Especially with some of my more “special” students, I question if I am making an impact at all or just slowly driving myself insane with the help of this student.   However, at this  time of year, regardless if the sessions  have been successful or frustrating, show the fruits of the labor put into them.  It is this time of year, where I can see that I am actually making a difference in these student’s life and academic career.

An especially treasured time is when I get to sit with the parents and share results and a unique understanding of their child.  How fulfilling it is to show them that their time, energy, efforts, and money have not been in vain, but are in fact well spent resources.  This is a great opportunity to remind them that even the smallest of accomplishments need to be celebrated, for they are accomplishments and improvements that will help their child for a lifetime.  The small and large celebrations, then naturally open the door for the recommendation to continue in therapy should the child need it.  Most meetings end with a joint feeling of support and renewed commitment to work as a team to support this particular child and student.

Am I looking forward to summer ~ you better believe it!  But I am also savoring this time.  The time is quickly approaching where I will get a break from the personalities that are infused within my students.  I can take a breath and reevaluate what goals need to be set for next year.  But this time when numbers are swimming in my head, is to be treasured.  When I see actual proof, my faith is renewed in where I have been called for a profession.  This is the time, that I need to celebrate the smallest of successes and change.  I get to remind myself with   confidence that the stress, sweat, and prayers were not in vain.  The changes seen in each of my students bring me a peace of heart and mind to launch me into a relaxing and rejuvenating summer.