It’s certainly an appropriate season for giving thanks, but research shows increasingly how beneficial gratitude is to our well-being year round. Studies show that the development of gratefulness increases children’s positive emotions, gives more meaning to their lives, helps them learn, and can even decrease risky behaviors in teens.
Certain children may already frequently feel gratitude, but what about the others?
Researchers have shown that it’s possible to cultivate gratitude in children and that educators can learn to do so. The November Issue of ASCD describes University of British Columbia Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl’s work on gratitude interventions with 35 classroom teachers.
She recalls how the practice completely transformed a 2nd grade classroom. Over the course of eight weeks, students learned about the concept of gratitude, practiced it regularly, and began using gratitude journals. They became so excited about the project that they rushed into the classroom each morning to write down what they were thankful for in their journals. Parents took notice and said that family conversations on the drive to school had turned to thankfulness and appreciation. Students also used the journals as a coping mechanism by taking them into a quiet area of the classroom to read when they were upset.
Pam Reed, an English language arts teacher at Buckeye Middle School in Columbus, Ohio, found the gratitude program extremely rewarding for her students. She would assign A–Z gratitude lists, model her own list on the board, and sometimes had students write lists as if they were book characters or historical figures they were studying.
ASCD quotes Reed as saying, “I’ve never had a fight in my classroom. There’s just more empathy and my students seem happier.”
Researchers Jeffrey J. Froh of Hofstra University and Giacomo Bono of California State University, Dominguez Hills have identified key principles for educators to use to subtly cultivate grateful thinking in young people.
1. Notice intentions. Encourage students to appreciate the thought behind gifts they receive.
2. Appreciate costs. Emphasize that when someone is helpful, it often comes at a sacrifice of time or effort to provide that help.
3. Recognize the value of benefits. Remind students that the help of others is a kind of gift to us.
For more information on gratitude in schools, check out these articles from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.