The Importance of Practicing Gratitude with Young Children : Part 1 : WHY?

The word gratitude brings to mind a feeling of thankfulness; an acceptance of circumstances and an acknowledgement of the gift of life.

But, does gratitude end with just the feeling or is it much more than a fleeting feeling of thankfulness?

When we choose to make a habit of gratefulness by adopting an attitude of gratitude, we are making a long term investment in the mental and physical well being of not just ourselves but of those around us, as well. A grateful disposition is probably the best gift we can give our children to take with them into adulthood. 

“It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to repay by returning the goodness that we have been given. In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

Gratitude & Children

With children under the age of six, gratitude begins as a subtle and indirect ritual which gradually becomes a more active and involved process. This can be as simple as a conversation at the end of the day between a parent and child or a teacher and a small group of children. The adult in the picture brings to focus some of the events of the day and helps the children pin emotions around them that focus on gratitude.

Young children understand a lot more than they can speak and by giving words to emotions that they feel, we give them the opportunity to narrow down these emotions to specific words. “Were you relieved when Mudra brought you a tissue when you fell at the park today?” or “You seemed delighted to set the table for dinner.” The words that surround gratitude such as joy, thankful, relief and happiness are simply highlighted in this practice with children.

Why?

  • Learning to Unwind with Gratitude 

Studies have shown that adults who spend a few moments each day journaling at least three things that they are grateful for have better mental & physical health, sleep & exercise better and tend to avoid depression. Although young children may seem inherently more joyful, practicing gratitude is a habit that will stay with them through life. It can be a simple bedtime ritual just like brushing their teeth.

In its own way, gratitude is a kind of prayer; instead of asking, we show our children to give thanks. Gratitude is a dynamic and open prayer where we recollect events of the day and be thankful for how those events have enriched and shaped us.

  • Acknowledging Collective Effort 

Gratitude helps children acknowledge that so many people and circumstances come together to sustain us.  Let us take a family, for example. Different members of the family support each other in different ways. Every member of the family is a contributor – tangible or intangible and every presence makes a difference. Many of us often take our closest family and friends, the ones who always love and support us, for granted. When we help our children acknowledge such presence in their lives, and when we ourselves acknowledge the same with our children, they begin to understand that life is made beautiful by the collective effort of so many.

  • Gratitude in the face of Adversities 

When a child has had a painful experience – falling down, an argument with a friend or sibling or losing something, we often try to either suppress or dismiss the experience. “Do not talk about the park or he will remember he fell down and start crying again” or “Stop crying! It is not such a big deal.” 

Instead if we talk about the experience, for example, “Today, what happened at the park?” (pause) “You fell down and cried. It must have been painful. Do you remember what happened after that?” (pause) “Yes, Mudra came running with a tissue and helped you. I am so grateful you have a friend like Mudra.” (pause) “Do you remember what we did after that? (pause) “We went to the doctor and he gave you an injection. You were scared. I held your hands and stayed close by. Did that make you feel better?” (pause) “Now, you are back at home and resting. Once you feel better, we can go back to playing in the park.” 

When we talk about trying experiences and help our children find hope even in those circumstances, it shows them perspective. It helps them always try and look at things to be grateful for even in adverse circumstances.

  • Spontaneous Thank You’s! 

How often we ask, rather nudge and even force children to say Thank You! As aware as we of the power of these words, we seem content with the words more than the feeling. With children, we expect instant responses.  While our children might say the words out of fear or compulsion, do we stop to think if they really are thankful? Instead, by talking to children through simple conversations such as, “I am so thankful for grandpa. He came all the way just to play with you”, we help them become aware that a certain person has done an act of kindness for another. It helps our children gradually build a habit of reflecting on the act of the other person. “Why did grandpa come? Does he really love and care for me?” 

When we think of it this way, we help our children build a web of emotions around benevolent acts. These will eventually lead to spontaneous thank you’s. Such thank you’s will stem from a deep sense of gratitude and give the words their true value.

“Childhood maybe the optimal time to promote healthy attitudes and the prevention of problems, and gratitude training could play an important role in any program designed to foster well-being. As in adults, gratitude may be a very valuable tool that children can use to negotiate both the ups and the downs in their lives.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

As indirect as the practice of gratitude is with young children under the age of six, it is like a seed that we plant in childhood and nurture with love and care. This seed of happiness will eventually instil a genuine sense of gratefulness and is possibly one of the most invaluable gifts we can offer our children.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the same article on the different ways in which we can practice Gratitude with Children under 6 at home and in communities. 

 

Around the World with our Little Globe Trotter : From One Mamma to Another

Travelling can be exciting for many adults – seeing new sights, trying different cuisines and experiencing new cultures! But, how does it work when you travel with young children who thrive on routine and consistency?

Let’s ask a Mamma of a chirpy 24 month old how she manages to make travelling the world memorable for the whole family.

Hi Apoorva, tell us about yourself and your family.

I’m a new mom who loves to travel and explore new places. My husband’s job requires him to travel across the globe and country. Our 2-year-old daughter, Abirami, loves going to new places, so we never miss the opportunity to pack our bags and go exploring. Traveling with an infant has never been an issue with our daughter being people-friendly and fuss free.

When was Abirami’s  first travel?

Our first travel with our daughter was our trip to our hometown from Coimbatore, where she was born. She was only 4 days old when she traveled by car for about 1.5 hours. Car travel at that age is easy with a baby seater at the back of the car. She just needed a feed or two for which we used to slow down the car. She slept peacefully through out with music in the background.

Her first flight travel was when she was 42 days old. I carried her in a topponcino which kept her warm and cozy. I have figured that the best way to keep my baby calm in the flight is to feed her during takeoff and landing. This helped avoiding ear pain or blockage that usually happens when children fly.

How many countries have you visited together in the last 24 months?

In the past 2 years we have been thrice to Singapore, Australia, Cambodia, Paris, Switzerland, Germany and the UAE. We’ve also made local trips from Chennai to Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Mangalore. We’ve traveled in all modes of transportation from airplanes, trains, ferries, gondolas to cars.

The Little Globe Trotter 2
Little Abirami of the famous “Abirami & Daddy”

Can you share with us Abirami’s diet during travel?

I make sure that our daughter’s diet doesn’t change much whether she is traveling or at home.

Breakfast:

For breakfast, she usually has a traditional South Indian meal of rice, dal, boiled vegetables and yoghurt. I carry a small electric cooker wherever I travel and purchase local fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. Sometimes, I give her a bowl of wholesome cereal with fruit purée (which any chef at any restaurant is glad to make). I also offer her some bread and cheese to add some variety to the mix.

Mid- morning/Lunch:

I follow an age-old recipe that has been passed down from my grandmother which is a serving of multigrain cereal (made with finger-millet, corn, pearl-millet, nuts and rice) mixed with water and a serving of milk. This cereal is wholesome and very filling and is also easy to prepare. I usually add a spoon of brown raw sugar to it and serve it in a bottle with a few ounces of milk.

Supper:

I make a variation of a whole grain millet porridge by changing its consistency. I make it thick and chewy and alternate it in taste by adding raw brown sugar one day and a pinch of salt and a few spoons of rasam the next day. 

Dinner:

Dinner is typically any Indian tiffin with less spice. My daughter loves to eat Idly, Dosa, Upma or Rotis. I try to serve it with a less spicy version of our side dishes. I also make it wholesome by adding carrots, beans, beets and peas to them. I typically include a portion of fruits like banana, apple, orange, pomegranate and pear before or after dinner. When we are travelling, I also try to make soups and pastas depending on the produce available locally. If not, I always have the traditional dishes to fall back on.

How do you manage air travel and jet lag which are major challenges for most parents?

The secret is to book night flights! That way when you fly out from home, it is the baby’s natural sleeping time. Try booking a bassinet seat so that both of you can rest comfortably  for a few hours. The other secret to stress free travel is to keep the baby engaged while traveling. I carry a lot of light weight books, and her favourite toy and puzzle set along. Paper and colour pencils always come handy too. I try to keep phone usage minimum but when nothing else works, I allow my daughter to play age appropriate and interactive games for not more than an hour. Once she is well rested during the travel, jet lag doesn’t pose much of a threat. My daughter is always up along with me or a few hours after. Jet lag typically hits when we are sightseeing or during the later part of the day. I try not to disturb her when it hits and allow her to sleep in the stroller or the baby carrier making sure she is fed and has clean diapers.

What’s your secret to helping her sleep on the go, in-car seats and in new places ?

The best thing you can do is to feed the baby and make sure the diapers are clean. The other best thing on the go, is the baby carrier. I use Ergobaby carrier which is ergonomically designed and comfortable for the baby. Lucky, my daughter sleeps well on a moving vehicle. Car seats and prams have always been helpful but I make sure she is not in them for more than a couple of hours.

How do you deal with health issues like fever, cold and diarrhoea?

The most important thing while traveling with a baby is not to panic when they fall sick. I keep a set of prescription medications handy. I consult and talk to my pediatrician regarding dosage and administer the medicines. To avoid cold and fever, we make sure she is properly layered while traveling by plane or to cold places. Taking an umbrella, hats and caps is a must while traveling to tropical countries. I constantly let her sip liquids like water and juices when we travel, especially during flight travel, where the body gets dehydrated easily. I try to offer fresh food and give her lots of boiled vegetables and fruits to keep stomach bugs at bay.

Can you share some  interesting travel experiences from which you learnt abundantly?

I believe that travel is the best teacher and it teaches one to be modest and shows the tiny place we occupy in this big world. It it is the best thing we give to our daughter as the experiences can never be taken away. She enjoys traveling as much as we do and loves the little things we don’t find amusing, be it a flying cockatoo or the dirty sledge and snow on top of the alps. I loved watching her get along with our friend’s son who is French. It was amazing to watch them play and converse, despite their language barrier. She even called his mom “Tina Athai” on her own!(Athai meaning Dad’s sister)

The Little Globe Trotter 3

A few tips to other mammas on navigating global travel with young children?

  • Do not stress about traveling with the baby!
  • Make a checklist of important things to carry and ensure you have them when you travel.
  • Invest in a good quality baby carrier. Believe me, it makes your life so much easier!!
  • Carry extra clothes for you and the baby and try to limit the number of diapers you carry. You can always buy your brand in other cities and countries.
  • Try to carry your own food for the baby. That way you are sure about what goes in the food you give your baby.
  • Plan your visits and sightseeing keeping in mind the baby’s schedule.
  • Keep an open mind  about germs and let your baby move around, whether in airports or airplanes. After all, that’s how they improve their immunity. 

Finally, let go of your worries and enjoy the moment. The little mischiefs and loveable smiles are all you will remember after your tiring travel!

Washing Rice

Washing rice is a tradition that has been sacredly followed in many cultures for several generations. Children growing up in such environments watch this activity on a daily basis. This familiarity creates enthusiasm and since it involves water, they relish it. The texture of the dry rice as against the wet rice, the unique scent of each rice and their colour, along with the eye-hand coordination and muscle strength that this activity requires, contribute to an engaging and rich sensory experience.

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children older than 18 months.

Things Required

  • 1 small bowl for rice (white, brown, black or red)
  • 1 medium pitcher for water
  • 1 rice washing colander 
  • 1 medium bowl for the starchy water 

Preparation

Usually, as adults, we wash rice at the sink by holding the colander in one hand and washing with the other. This is hard for young children who lack that kind of control. Also, most sinks at our homes are at adult height and for a toddler to stand on a step stool and handle the colander and water is inconvenient. For this reason, I find that having everything at a table frees the child to focus on the task in hand. An older child, who has more balance and control over water usage can wash directly at the sink.

Some families are sentimental about wastage of rice. In such a case, minimise the quantity of rice in the bowl or switch to a smaller bowl.

I also feel that we need to find a balance between child size tools and adult tools in the kitchen. For instance, in this recipe I have used an adult colander because I feel the child can achieve the purpose of the task with this colander. These are also ways to communicate to the child that our worlds can meet and merge in the kitchen! As always, you are the best judge of what will work in your home for your child!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.” Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

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Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.

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Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.

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Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.

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Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.

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Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl. 

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It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 

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Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing. I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels. Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

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Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.”
  • Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.
  • Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.
  • Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.
  • Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.
  • Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.
  • Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. 
  • Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl.
  • It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 
  • Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing.
  • I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.