Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Do This to Foster Gratitude In Your Children

Americans often bemoan how today’s children seem to have trouble thinking of others and appreciating their many blessings.  The upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons are a wonderful time to reflect on what we are thankful for, as well as help our children adopt an attitude of gratitude. Numerous studies have shown that feelings of gratitude help adults and children to be happier and healthier. Here are some ideas for fostering gratitude in ourselves and our loved ones:

Model Gratitude in Word and in Action- As I’ve often mentioned, parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Our kids are watching what we say and do and learning from it.  If we want our children to have an attitude of gratitude, we need to strive for an attitude of gratitude, and show them what that looks like. This can be as simple as regularly sharing with your kids what you are thankful for, acknowledging a thoughtful act your child performed, or making a point to sincerely thank and show gratitude to others when you are out in the world.

Have a Family Mealtime or Bedtime Gratitude Ritual- Take advantage of nightly routines to foster an attitude of gratitude in your family. Before or after eating dinner together, go around the table and have each family member share something they are thankful for in their lives. Or, invite each family member to share something they are thankful for before everyone goes to bed.  Blessings before family meals, or nightly prayers are also good times to tie in gratitude rituals.

Encourage Your Children to Start a Gratitude Journal- Encourage your child to write in a journal five things they are grateful for on at least a weekly basis. You might invite them at dinner to share some of the things they wrote in their gratitude journal with the family. If you have younger children who aren’t quite ready to write yet, encourage them instead to draw a picture of one or two things for which they are thankful.

Volunteer or Give to Others as a Family- You might make it a holiday tradition to volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen or local food bank, or work together to build care packages for those serving overseas. Another idea would be to have your children donate toys they don’t play with anymore and clothes they don’t wear or can no longer fit in. Afterwards, discuss as a family what the experience meant to everyone.  

The Power of Thank You Notes- Foster an attitude of gratitude in your kids by encouraging them to show their appreciation to others.  Talk with your kids about the people they are thankful for in their lives, and encourage them to write and deliver a few thank you notes to those people, whether it’s their siblings, teachers, bus driver, after school counselor, etc.  Along with their thank you note, they could even bake and give them cookies or other treats.

Help Your Child See the Thought Behind the Gift- When your child receives a gift of any kind, make it a point to remind them of the thoughtfulness that went into the gift, and encourage them to acknowledge the effort on the part of the gift giver. 

Christmas List Reversed- Encourage your child to brainstorm and make a list of the gifts they want to give others. These gifts aren’t necessarily intended to have a price tag, as they should mostly be handmade items or thoughtful acts.

Find the Positive in a Bad Situation- Another way to help children develop an attitude of gratitude is to model positivity in difficult situations. For example, if it rains during a family outing and your child complains, remind them that at least you are all able to spend time together as a family.

Earning Money for Gifts- Give your child opportunities to earn a bit of extra money in the weeks ahead.  They can use the money to buy some of the things they want. This will help them appreciate what they have more.

Start a Family Blessings Jar- An easy way for all of us to focus on what we are thankful for is to create a Blessings Jar. Set out a clear jar with scraps of paper and a pen beside it, and write “Blessings” on the jar. Encourage all members of your family to write down things they are thankful for, fold the paper, and put it in the jar. Together as a family, periodically empty the jar and read aloud the blessings in the jar and talk about them.

Fostering an attitude of gratitude in your children is a gift that can help them think of others and feel happier and healthier.  Now is a great time to have a family meeting to share these ideas and brainstorm others. As a family, you might choose a couple to focus on, especially during the rest of this year.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Identifying Stress in Your Life

Stress, and especially chronic stress, is a silent killer. Scientists are increasingly finding that chronic stress is linked to a variety of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and can even accelerate aging. Because of the serious health outcomes that can occur from unmanaged chronic stress, it is important to get it under control sooner rather than later. Here are some of the signs and symptoms you can look for to identify stress in your life, and in the lives of those your loved ones.

Depression- Depression is complex, but it is often a symptom of unresolved, unrelieved stress. Excessive stress can make you feel unaccomplished - there's just too much to do - and that can result in feelings of worthlessness. Also, since stress can affect sleep, your mind and body can become exhausted. Without adequate rest, the brain cannot function optimally.

Difficulty concentrating- "Brain fog" can result from stress. You may find it difficult to stick to a task without your mind wandering. Again, this can be interpreted as your brain trying to get the rest it needs by "escaping."

Insomnia- This is perhaps one of the more torturous stress symptoms. Insomnia is very difficult to deal with and adds to the cycle of stress. If you can't sleep, it can begin a cascade of cyclic symptoms that result from lack of sleep, and then exacerbate the lack of sleep.

Feeling overwhelmed- Stress can make everything seem bigger. When you are stressed, it seems like there is just too much to do and you'll never get it done. Then you may feel inadequate because you didn't accomplish everything that needed to be done during the day.

Withdrawal- Do you find yourself too worn out to go out? If someone asks you to a party or event, do you just think of it as one more thing you'll have to deal with? That may mean you're stressed.

Chronic stress plays a role in causing or exacerbating many health conditions. Here are a few stress-related health issues:

Headaches- Headaches caused by stress are said to be tension-type headaches, or TTH. Medical professionals say that TTHs result from circulatory fluctuations and muscle tension.

Heart irregularities- Stress affects the heart - it's supposed to, so that your chances of survival are increased in a stressful situation. But when the stress is continual, your heart can really get "tired out." Heart disease is being linked to stress. The heart and overall circulatory system may be affected by stress to the point of exacerbating or even causing disease or dysfunction.

Weight gain or loss- Your appetite may fluctuate significantly if you are stressed, resulting in weight gain or loss that you weren't expecting. Depression and insomnia can contribute to weight gain, too, and some experts theorize that fat, especially on the belly, can actually be a sign of stress.

Other Signs of Stress- Digestive disorders can be a sign of stress. These can range from abdominal pain to chronic diarrhea. Hair loss may also result from chronic stress. Experts say that chronic stress exhausts the immune system, leaving you open to infection and sickness. Chronic back, neck and joint pain that is difficult to identify may result from chronic stress.

Just reading about stress can cause stress, right?  So what can we do to reduce our stress levels and better deal with all we choose to do?  I’ve created a powerful tip sheet “Stress-Busters for Mom and Dad.”  Email “Stress Busters” to and I’ll send it right out to you.  Start busting down your stress today!