But one of the subject areas we’ve long incorporated is that of gratitude. We’ve done gratitude jars and journals, but this past year we created a large gratitude tree on one of our walls. The hope is that we can help our daughter to become more grateful for and mindful of all the wonderful things she has–we all have.
Mindfulness for children – The Gratitude Tree
Mindfulness can help us reduce worry and boost happiness from the moment we are born. Mindfulness, the simple discipline of bringing a kind, welcoming attitude to the present moment, can help children of all ages. It can also benefit parents and caregivers by increasing happiness and decreasing stress. How do gratitude and mindfulness help?
From the moment we are born, we are confronted with adversity. Babies experience hunger and exhaustion. Toddlers struggle with language development and self-control. And when children progress through adolescence to become teenagers, life becomes increasingly challenging. Growing up entails developing connections, managing school, and exercising independence, all of which naturally produce stressful situations for any youngster.
Mindfulness can be a beneficial strategy for reducing anxiety and enhancing happiness at each developmental stage. In recent decades, mindfulness — a simple approach that stresses paying attention to the present moment in a welcoming, nonjudgmental manner — has evolved as a popular mainstream practice. It is taught to corporate leaders, athletes in the locker room, and, increasingly, children at home and in school.
Mindfulness is not something to be outsourced. The best method for parents to teach their children to be grateful and mindful is to model that behavior for them. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. That’s where a gratitude tree comes in.
What is a gratitude tree?
Our gratitude tree is a fun, visual craft that lets us pause and reflect on the moment and upon things we feel grateful for. A gratitude tree makes it fun for us to learn to practice gratitude and become more mindful, and it can be fun for your child too. Making a gratitude tree is an opportunity to teach kids how to be grateful for their home, family, friends, health, and belongings. Taking the time to share, discuss, and express sincere gratitude leads to happier families with stronger bonds.
Often, gratitude trees are simple craft projects. Usually, pieces cut out on a sheet of paper with gratitude leaves stuck on them. And often these are done on or around the American Thanksgiving holiday. That can be fun and may be a good start for some families. But
The problem with teaching gratitude at Thanksgiving
Take a look at the image below from Google Trends. It shows the trend for searches on the phrase “gratitude tree”.
Of course, Thanksgiving is about being thankful. So there’s nothing wrong with instilling a sense of gratitude at Thanksgiving. The problem is when we adopt the habit of expressing gratitude an annual occurrence rather than a daily, or hourly, one.
What are we really teaching our children when we do projects such as a gratitude tree only periodically? We’re modeling that it’s not an important part of daily life. It’s something to do annually, like celebrating the New Year or another holiday. The problems with that, of course, are that we not only don’t help our children adopt a true sense of mindfulness and gratitude, but we deny them the scientific benefits of gratitude.
So, rather than create a gratitude tree on a sheet of paper–one that can easily be tossed out or buried under a mountain of child creations–we opted for a more permanent resource to express gratitude.
Let’s make a gratitude tree!
Our gratitude tree is simple and fun. It’s simply the shape of a tree painted on a wall, with bare branches. Sure, I had some fun on the tree by painting a bird and a nest. And I’m definitely no artist, as branches are too thick in some spots and–well–that bird is pretty big. But that’s the point. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s there to be fun and an ongoing visual reminder of two things:
- We should always be grateful.
- We have a lot to be grateful for.
So, all we needed for this was some craft paint and a brush. And of course, a sacrificial wall. Beyond that, we just cut out teardrop shapes in colored craft paper and called them leaves.
That’s it! The gratitude tree was ready for service.
How to use the gratitude tree
While we express gratitude daily and still use other tools for that, such as journals and jars, Friday is our gratitude tree day. We start our homeschool each Friday morning at the gratitude tree and think of what we’re truly feeling appreciative of at that time. Or what we really felt grateful for that week.
It can be anything. And it can be tangible, such as feeling grateful for food, or intangible, such as deep gratitude for a feeling of love. The important thing is to help the child to be truly mindful and develop really appreciation for the gifts she has earned or has been given.
What to write on the gratitude tree
Sometimes your child will have serious things to be grateful for. Like having a bed to sleep in. Or a loving family.
Other times she’ll have more childish thoughts. Such as being grateful for toys and cartoons. That’s okay. She is a child, after all. And what’s wrong with being grateful for those things? I was grateful when football season started back up and wasn’t shy about writing it on the gratitude tree!
What you or your child writes isn’t as important as being genuinely reflective and expressing sincere gratitude. And doing so on a regular basis. Because when you do that, when you make gratitude a habit rather than a seasonal event, you’ll be nurturing a child who will become a mindful, grateful, adult. One who will help make the world a kinder place.
Isn’t that what we all want?