Helping children find happiness in appreciation this festive season

Helping children find happiness in appreciation this festive season

The Art of Appreciation

Teaching children to have an attitude of gratitude during the holidays.

By Marilyn Campbell/The Connection

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From Christmas lists to piles of presents under the tree, the last thing on a child’s mind during the holiday season might be expressing appreciation. In fact, mental health experts say, it is one of the hardest concepts to teach children.

Dr. Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., professor of psychology at George Mason University, has studied the link between gratitude and happiness and says that people who are grateful tend to be less depressed and anxious.

"When people are mindfully recognizing and appreciating the benefits they receive from other people, positive events linger longer, [and] it is enhancing and strengthening those relationships. There is a strong link between being a grateful person and having the experience of gratitude and having more happiness in your life," said Kashdan, who is also the author of "Designing Positive Psychology" (Oxford University Press) and "Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life."

During the season of giving, Kashdan and other mental health professionals offer tips for parents for teaching gratitude to children.

Children often hand their parents lengthy Christmas lists. Experts say it is difficult for children to feel grateful when their every wish is granted.

"Allow them to [identify] certain things on the list that might be most important to them," said Annette Kielkopf, a marriage and family therapist based in McLean. "[Say to them] ‘If Santa isn’t able to bring you everything on the list, what would that be like for you?’ And talk with them about how to cope and allow them to appreciate the smaller things. What you’re trying to do is teach coping skills. You’re teaching them how to accept a disappointment and find a diamond in the rough."

RAISING GRATEFUL CHILDREN requires that parents model the behavior.

"As parents, talk about things that you’re grateful for and not strictly material things. That sets a good example so children don’t only hear you complaining or nagging them. Kids really do notice what their parents and the significant people in their lives talk about," said Karen Prince, MSW, LCSW-C, a Kensington-based clinical social worker who specializes in treating children with anxiety and depression.

Kashdan says parents should encourage children to elaborate on why they like a particular gift…

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