Years ago we started practicing appreciation and gratitude with our kids on a regular basis. Setting aside time to reflect on what we are thankful for is a worthy practice. For our family it takes a number of forms throughout the day. In the mornings, we take turns on the way to school sharing things we are grateful for. We have been doing this for years since the boys first started school (you can read more about the early days of the tradition here) and while most of the time they enjoy it and expect the tradition, it can take a bit of time (and overcoming resistance) to get into the habit.
Recently, I realized that our “appreciation” on the way to school had become somewhat stale. By the end of the time we were in relational mode, but I wasn’t noticing as much enthusiasm. I found the boys often appreciating things they were thankful for like, “the blue car we just passed” or “my snow pants” without a lot of feeling in it. Our rounds of appreciation were becoming more of a list of things they were thankful for but missing the “feeling” of appreciation and gratitude.
I decided we were going to change up how we did the rounds in the car on the way to school. When I told them the new plan I was met with much resistance, groans and comments like, “If you make me do this it will send me out of relational mode.” I agreed that the shift would feel hard at first and would take some time to get used to, but encouraged them that it would be worth it in the long run.
To freshen up our appreciation, I decided to combine our morning tradition with another skill we have worked on with the boys: interacting with Jesus and noticing what Jesus might bring to our attention (to read more about how we worked on this skill check out my blog here).
Our new practice was going to be thinking of a joyful memory, noticing how we felt in the midst of that memory, and asking Jesus where He was in that moment. It took a couple of weeks to get used to our new practice, and in all transparency, there were moments along the way if I wondered if it was really worth pushing the kids to try this new routine. It often took the whole drive to school for just one child to attempt the process while their RCs would be off from frustration with the change and they couldn’t think of anything they were thankful for, let alone a memory that felt joyful and how that felt in their body.
Part of what was challenging for the boys was they weren’t used to paying enough attention to what is going on in their bodies to come up with words to describe it – a problem many adults have as well. So we started paying attention to how it felt when they were excited, joyful or content and I gave them some words for options (light, heavy, warm, energized, peaceful, tight/tense) and had them pick some words to expand on the words that came to their minds like “fun” or “nice” when I asked how it felt.
After about 2 weeks of practice, we finally seemed to hit our stride. The boys started being able to report more quickly about joyful memories, how it felt in their bodies and listening for Jesus’ response about where He was in the moment. They reported things like, “I appreciated snuggling our dogs this morning before school and it felt warm and cuddly in my body,” then after a little pause, “And Jesus was enjoying watching me enjoy His creation.”
This is a more advanced form of appreciation/gratitude and might be harder for younger children. If you feel like your kids are ready to take it to the next level, challenge them to a new version but be prepared to encounter some initial resistance.
I would love to hear about your journey of practicing appreciation with your kiddos. Please share thoughts, stories or questions in the comments below!