Tag Archives: praising your kids

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Daily Life

thank you card

thank you cardOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

So it’s that time of year: the time when we make resolutions. A few years back, I decided that rather than set specific, time-bound goals for myself each year, I would embrace a annual concept. One year it was slow living. Another year it was authenticity.

This year my concept is gratitude.

A lot has been written about the putative health benefits of gratitude: it’s great for making friends…feeling less envious…even sleeping better.

I buy that. I know that I always feel better when I’ve thanked someone for something they’ve done or when they’ve acknowledged me for a good deed.

Where I fall down is remembering to do this on a regular basis.

Here are five quick and easy ways to build gratitude into your daily life:

a. Start a Gratitude Journal. I’ve read about gratitude journals for ages and I know some people swear by them. The concept is really simple: at the end of the day, you set aside 15 minutes to write down everything you are thankful for in that day. It could be a person, your health, a specific event. It doesn’t matter. The point is to focus on things that made you happy that day and to reflect on why they made you happy. I’ve never actually done an actual journal per se (I have too many other journals in my life!), but the Headspace mindfulness app I use every morning is a really useful tool for cultivating gratitude. Many of the series there ask you to begin your meditation by asking yourself who you are doing the meditation for – i.e. who will benefit from your personal reflection on anger/stress/fill-in-the-blank? There is also a stream specifically designed to cultivate appreciation that also asks you to write things down.

b. Ask your spouse/partner what you can do for them today. I love this idea. I’m stealing it from Richard Paul Evans who wrote a now-viral blog post about how he saved his marriage by choosing one day to put aside whatever anger and frustration he was feeling towards his wife and instead ask a simple question: “How can I make your life better?” At first, he found himself cleaning the garage and attending to other household chores she wanted help with. Over time, however, they both started asking each other this question each morning and their relationship improved immeasurably as they realized what they most wanted and needed to do was spend more time together.

c. Praise your kid for a very specific act. As a parent, it can be hard to resist the temptation to constantly coach your kids. It’s very easy to notice what they’re doing wrong or not well enough, rather than what they do right. And before you know it, you’re treating them more like a project to fix, rather than as human being. If you’ve ever gone to a parenting seminar on how to induce good behaviour from young children, they’ll tell you to heap praise on anything they do right in very specific terms. But it’s also good advice if you’ve got teenagers. Don’t just say – “Hey thanks for cleaning up” say: “Thank you so much for putting your dishes in the dishwasher after dinner; that really helps me out after a busy day.” The specificity of the praise is much more likely to resonate than criticizing them for not also doing the pots and pans!

d. Give your colleague a thank you card. When I left my job last summer, one of my colleagues gave me a thank you card to thank me for all that she’d learned from me on the job as well as for my friendship. I was truly bowled over. It’s completely natural to give someone a “good bye” card when they go but a “thank you” card is actually that much more special because it is a really easy, personal way to thank someone for the impact they had on you. Going forward, I’m going to do this whenever I say good-bye to someone.

e. Recognize people on Social Media. If you’re on it, social media can be a great place to give a shout out to people – particularly strangers -and give them public recognition. Part of this is inherent in sharing someone else’s blog post and explaining why you liked it. But there are other. more specific ways of showing gratitude Online. On Twitter, for example, you can use the hashtag #followfriday (#FF) to list people whom you follow and think others ought to follow and (ideally) *why* you followed them. There are also specific hashtags like #tuesdayblogs where you share blog posts that champion someone else’s book. It’s a lovely  as a way of expressing gratitude to strangers.

What other simple ways of expressing gratitude in your life have you found and how do they make you feel?

Image: Support List Thank You Card by Andrew Steele via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things Teaching Taught Me About Parenting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Over on the fabulous Beyond The Margins blog, Lisa Saffran has a great post about why teaching makes you a better writer.

It also makes you a better parent.

Here are five things my recent stint teaching writing taught me about parenting:

1. Focus on Praise. This is parenting 101 here, but it’s something that we parents – (OK, me) – frequently forget. I remember attending a parenting seminar a few years back. One of the central takeaway points (and yes, I did take notes!) was that you should always emphasize the positive with your children in very specific terms. (e.g., “Well done for putting your tee-shirt on your arms and not your legs!” or “How nice that you didn’t hit your sister!”) I noticed that when I was teaching, I was incredibly positive with the students, encouraging them for everything they did, because I knew that even if they didn’t always get things right, they were giving it their best shot. Moreover, I also figured that seeing me praise those who were trying hard would motivate those who were hanging back to come out of their shells and raise their hands. And you know what? It worked. But then on the bus ride home I thought, why don’t I do this with my own kids? Instead of constantly telling them what they do wrong and trying to make them “better,” why don’t I heap praise upon their accomplishments – large and small alike – as a way of encouraging them? As I said, parenting 101, to be sure, but a lesson worth re-learning.

2. Ignore bad behavior. A corollary to #1 is that when possible, you should ignore bad behavior. Perhaps because they weren’t my own children, I found it easy to ignore it when the kids acted up in class (which to be fair to them, wasn’t all that often.) But if they said a naughty word or went off on an irrelevant tangent or did something silly or chided another child, I just carried on as if I didn’t see it/hear it and could really care less. And once again, it startled me how quickly they gave up on the bad behavior when they saw that it wasn’t getting a rise out of me. My kids fight a lot and my son – in particular – isn’t very nice to his younger sister. And while I know that he’s doing a lot of that to get “negative” attention from me, I still find it hard not to step in to defend her. But as I observed when I was teaching, that’s usually counter-productive. The more I can ignore his bullying and teasing (except when it gets violent), the less likely he is to do it.

3. Change takes time. I’ve been teaching creative writing for the past few weeks to junior high-aged students. On the last day of class, we did a workshop where the kids had to read a selection of their work (poem/story/memoir) and talk about how they’d incorporated at least two of the writing techniques we’d learned to improve their writing. One of the groups I was working with really took this on board and came to class prepared to talk about their revisions. But the other group hadn’t really done so. Which surprised me, since it was very clear to me during the lessons that they’d gotten the material. At first, I took this as a sign that I’d failed as a teacher (with this group, anyway.) But when I talked about it later with their English teacher, she said that she sees this all the time. And what she’s come to realize is that you can’t expect them to absorb everything overnight. They might well “get” what it is that you’re teaching them in class, but it might still take weeks – if not months – for those lessons to show up in their writing. This is good advice for parents as well. At least for those of us who are – cough – trying to impart certain life skills to our ten-year-olds, we need to understand that it progress is incremental. And if we lower our expectations, our kids may actually surpass them.

4. Shout as a last resort. One of the biggest differences I’ve encountered in the British school system (vs. the American one) is that it’s OK for teachers to shout at kids. I’m not here to defend that behavior – or even to analyze it. But I did notice that the teacher I worked with only shouted as a last resort. She tried any other manner of strategies with the (sometimes quite boisterous) kids short of yelling at them when they did something wrong: dialoguing, incentivizing, cajoling, ignoring. Even that old chestnut, counting to three. Again, more good advice for parents. Sometimes shouting just seems like the most efficient short-cut when you’re annoyed with your kid for setting the house on fire. And sometimes it’s useful. But it should be the last thing you do as a parent, not the first.

5. Don’t assume you know everything. When you’re teaching a class – especially if there are a lot of pupils – you can’t always tell who’s paying attention and who isn’t. Moreover, sometimes the kids who speak up the most produce the weakest written work and vice-versa. In one of the classes I just taught, one boy who never opened his mouth once produced two jaw-droppingly beautiful poems. It’s the same with parenting. You don’t always know what’s going on in your kids’ minds. So you need to watch. And listen. They might just surprise you.


Image: Students In Classrooms at UIS 10-15-10 by jeremy.wilburn via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.