6 games to instill mindfulness and gratitude in our children (and ourselves)

kite-1666816_1280Since I became a mom 10 years ago, I have been committed to helping my daughter see the good in things as a first reflex.

My own upbringing did not allow for this way of being in the world and, instead, instilled the typical apprehension and worry that seems to be passed down to children in Western societies.

That is not how I want my child to move through life. so I’ve made it a priority to ensure that my daughter’s natural inclination toward happiness be nurtured and even protected when necessary.

Feeling gratitude magnifies what is good, beneficial, and enjoyable.

So together we practice noticing good things — things to be glad about — with games we play, I like to play asking questions, for example the first game is “Best of the Day” ok I like to ask what you think about the best of the day, pros and cons, here’s another list of 21 questions ideas:

1) “Best of the Day” Game

At bedtime, while she’s all tucked in, we go through our ritual of closing the day behind us and using the Technomono best cheap airsoft sniper rifle to play with. I ask her to tell me what the best thing of that day was. She thinks a moment, then reveals what she enjoyed most. It can be “big” and significant or one of the more sublime, little moments that came along like a sweet little bird to sing into her awareness.

At times, in reply to my question about the best part of her day, she will burst out with, “Everything!” I tell her that is sort of cheating — that I want to know what was particularly great, big or small, among all the “everything” that she experienced. Create your own crossword is always good to be played with the entire family.

My thinking is that, by pulling out and naming particularly wonderful moments or events, she will refine her appreciation of things as they happen. But some evenings she insists that everything really was good.

By nature, we are wired to notice negative things as a throwback to primitive survival mechanisms. My daughter who reports having had a smoothly happy time teaches me that it is possible to have an unruffled experience of general good feeling during a day. Who am I to argue with that?

I make it a practice to not ask her “why” she is happy. Do we need a reason to feel good? Do we really want the set point to be below contentment only to rise if something comes along to break the sad spell?

2) “Favorite Things” Game

We have variations of our “Best Thing of the Day” game that we pull out to make productive use of otherwise empty times. When she’s bored, or we happen to be sitting together somewhere, like a bus station or in line at the bank, one of us will remember that we can play the “Favorite Things” game. We take turns doing a lightening round list of things we are grateful for.

Sometimes we just do the obvious things: blue sky, mangoes, our best friends, our kitty, that the chickens laid eggs today, that the fruit is getting riper, ice cream, birthday is coming up, and so on. But the real fun is when we go for the less obvious things. That gives the game the potential to go on and on:

I am glad I got a window seat on the bus.

I am grateful for that beautiful arrangement of silk flowers over there.

I am grateful there’s a good light above us so we can see each other.

I am grateful that I had exact change for buying peanuts.

I am grateful that toddler did not fall down.

I am grateful that my keys were exactly where they were supposed to be. 

I am glad that I easily found matching socks today.

The variations to this game are endless.

3) “Who Are you Grateful For?” Game

We can do, “Who are you grateful for?”:

The men who collect the trash every week.

The friendly cashier at the store

The people fixing the road

People who pick the vegetables we eat

People who sort the mail

That of course makes us see and appreciate the many people whose labor makes our lives easier.

4) “That’s a Relief” Game

We can do, “That’s a relief”:

I’m relieved that you caught the glass when it slipped off the table.

I’m relieved that you woke up anyway when the alarm did not go off.

I’m relieved that the lights came back after the storm.

I’m relieved we found your shoe when we were almost going to be late.

With this game, the general feeling that it’s a friendly world settles on us.

5 & 6) Other Variations of This Game

Here are some other versions of this game to help you come up with your own:

  • Being grateful for the one who invented…electricity, cheesecake, water heaters, Toyotas that never die, steel wool pads for burned stuff on the pan, washing machines…
  • What (or who) has helped you recently that you want to give thanks for? DIY videos on YouTube, my teacher, our neighbor, the man who gave us directions, the guy who fixed the tire, a person I did not know who lent me a hand.

The Result

How do you feel now that you have come along with us in this practice?

Doing these games builds intimacy between us as we toss the gratitude ball back and forth. The subtle magic of the practice never fails to boosts the mood and, most importantly, sets us up to notice and find joy in the simple things of life. What could be more essential to a successful life than that?

My Gift to You

Now it is my turn to give my thanks to you for allowing me to share my ideas with you. I’d love to give you one of my stories to share with your children: Mommy’s Story Box is a bedtime story with a gratitude thread woven into it.

I wish you the wisdom and grace to take in all the beauty your parenting journey brings.

Sharing gratitude on a nightly basis

Before my children go to sleep at night, I have 3 questions that I ask them:

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What was your favorite part of the day?
  3. What are you grateful for?

These questions have become a ritual for us as we have been doing it for years. We continue to do so even as we navigate the middle school days for my youngest and now are moving into the high school years for my oldest. I know we all look forward to this time of connection as it opens up a conversation that goes beyond the simple responses to those questions.

I have been surprised to find that the topic about gratitude is often the one that is discussed the most. There is an appreciation for all of us when we take the time to offer our thanks for something that happened during the day. My girls’ answers may be about a material item they received or a favorite food that they were able to eat — especially if it is a dessert — and I have found that is a practice for me to listen to their responses without judgement.

hands-heart-grainsIt is a gift for each of us to pay attention to one another in a way that offers a willingness to receive whatever the other person has to offer. I am thankful for this opportunity to connect with my kids and for us to grow in our understanding that often it is the simple things in life that we are most grateful for.

Sometimes my girls give me the same answer for all 3 questions, and I am fine with this as I recognize that maybe being tired overcomes the desire to engage in conversation. I trust that they are offering what they can in the moment and that on a different day I may hear much more when they are ready to share. It is also possible that one event was the highlight of their day and the one thing that does answer all 3 of the questions. When I realize this, I am excited that they were able to engage in an activity that was filled with joy.

The time just before we fall asleep is one of my favorite moments of the day. I know that this can be a magical time when both girls are willing to open up with me and express what they are thinking or how they are feeling, which they might not do during any other time of the day. Every once and awhile, I have tried to get them to answer the questions over dinner only to be confronted with the comment that the day is not yet complete so I will just have to wait until later in the evening.

Over the years, I have grown to realize that this simple time with my kids is one of the best ways to engage in peaceful parenting as it reminds us what we are thankful for and encourages a dialogue that may not have taken place. I am amazed at all the events that they encounter in a day without me. I trust that they are navigating each experience with grace even when it is not so easy. I know that they will talk to me when needed.

As we move into a season where many families are expressing gratitude, I am reminded of how lovely it is for me and my kids to share our thanksgivings on a nightly basis. 

Being present for another

dandelionEditor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 26, 2008, and it continues to inspire parents to give presence to their children.

I find the whole concept of “being present” for another person so relevant to our world. How many of us have not really been given sufficient presence by our parents while we were growing up or even by other influential adults that helped to shape our lives?

There really is so much to be said for looking another person in the eye and just listening to what they are saying no matter what their age.I hear you,” “I hold this safe space for you,” and “You matter” are the subliminal messages of this action, and it feeds a person’s soul on a deep level.

When we do this with our children, we are teaching them that they are important and deserve to be heard. They then can learn from a very early age that the most important people in their life — their parents, who hold so much power in influencing their self esteem — really do care about how they feel about things and what they have to say. We just have to hold the space for them to do that.

Since my son is a preschooler, this skill is becoming ever increasingly more valuable to our family. He wants to talk to us more often now about many different thoughts he has, and both my husband and I try to always look him in the eye and either hold him or sit next to him or play toys with him while he is speaking, or if he was off in another room, making sure to enter into that same room with him.

Giving him direct attention while he is speaking about something really makes him feel so validated, and it boosts his confidence in himself. I try to recap what he has said each time to let him know that Mommy understood his thoughts and ideas. He then usually goes on into greater detail on the topic, because he knows that I listened to him and he feels so happy about it and wants to share more with me.

We have started teaching him about how when another person is talking, we all need to pay attention to that person just like we paid attention to him when he was speaking. It seems to be getting through to him as I’ve seen him give this kind of presence and respect to both of us and even to some friends lately.

To me, this is one of the most important life skills a person needs to develop to live in harmony with the world around them.  Not only do our children need to be given presence, but we all must give presence and respect to each other and be the example of this for the younger generations to emulate.

Editor’s note: Melissa formerly wrote about sustainability, green living, alternative health, nutrition, parenting and life in general at Nature Deva.net

8 ideas to holiday gift-giving to cultivate more connection

emily holiday post memeThe holiday season is upon us. As chilly winds begin to blow and the days become short and gray, we are given the opportunity to draw our loved ones near and celebrate what brings warmth, light and love into our lives in the face of cold and darkness. We return to family traditions, created and recreated year after year, to strengthen the ties that bind and celebrate the joy that comes with feeling connected to family and friends near and far.

And then — like a scratch in the record playing our favorite carol — we are bombarded by harsh interruptions at every turn: Glossy newspaper toy ads and email specials blanket our surroundings like a fresh blanket of consumerist snow…loud, boisterous commercials on the radio boom into our speakers as an overwhelming list of wants and needs, and often lies and insecurities, fill our minds…our children, so sensitive and eager to celebrate, start to fill up their elaborate wish lists as visions of sugar plums dance in their heads…grown-ups race from place to place, checking off lists, and fulfilling obligations, wondering in the back of their minds, Will our gifts be enough to bring joy to our loved ones? Will our funds be enough to provide a bounty of food and drinks on our table? Are we doing enough to make this holiday season special?

emily van boegartSo, before those discouraging feelings start to creep into your warm heart, I need to tell you something: You are most certainly enough, friend. I see how much you care about your loved ones, and the incredible attention and effort you put into making the holidays picture-perfect and full of good cheer. And I also want to tell you something else. You, yes you, are the greatest gift you can give your friends and family. Ask them; they’ll tell you it’s true.

Instead of getting carried away with the pressures of consumerism, let’s put our heads together and find a way to reclaim this season for the values and truths we hold dear in our hearts. Don’t get me wrong — giving amazing gifts can feel magical for both the giver and the receiver, and we absolutely can and should share our bounty with one another. But as we give gifts and spread joy, let’s use the occasion to be intentional and celebrate who and what actually matters most to us.

Since breaking patterns and changing habits can be hard work, I’ve gathered a list of ways you can make the season a little bit brighter as you give to those who are closest to you:

  1. Buy local, support artists and artisans, and invest in quality — You can use your holiday gift-giving as a way to connect with people and things that matter to you. Find local and independent businesses that share your values and worldview. That could include a boutique that sources fair-trade merchandise, businesses that support diversity and equality, shops that feature lovingly handmade items and goods made with sustainable materials, performances that move you, services delivered with great care and skill, and nonprofits that benefit causes close to your heart. You can maximize the goodness of your generosity by supporting businesses that in turn support the vibrant, ethical and thriving communities to which you would like to belong.
  2. DIY, thrift, trade and upcycle — Creating useful crafts or making food can be a relaxing way to spend time, and a fulfilling way to meditate on how much someone means to you as you make their gift. Not crafty? There’s no shame in scoring a one-of-a-kind vintage item, a perfectly broken-in hardback book, or a nearly new toy or game at a second-hand shop. Reach out to friends to swap new-to-you items into your family’s rotation. Save time and resources by reusing gift bags or by wrapping gifts with cloth that can be reused again and again: Pillowcases make great gift bags, and baby’s outgrown receiving blankets make excellent Furoshiki-style wrapping cloths. Think outside the box, and let your creativity flow.
  3. Set some boundaries — This is a challenging one. Nobody likes to be told how and what to give. However, if a gentle and thoughtful request is made to express your family’s need for more connection and fewer collections, your loved ones will likely hear and honor those feelings. Go ahead, be courageous and ask grandparents to limit themselves to 1 gift per person or the gift of an experience if your child’s toy chests runneth over. Chances are that their beloved grandchild will end up with a truly thoughtful, useful, meaningful gift they will be elated to receive, and grandparents can kick off their shoes and spend a little more time snuggling and less time shopping. Parents can use the “want/need/wear/read” method to cover the basics and the fun stuff for the littles without going overboard. Families big and small can also benefit from gift drawings, and there are many ways to make them fun and easy, from online gift-drawing generators to gift-swapping games.
  4. Give to those in need — Feel a twinge of sadness and guilt when you drive under the expressway with a trunk full of groceries and gifts only to see a person who is cold, homeless and hungry? Me, too. It’s easy to become paralyzed in those uncomfortable feelings, but we have the power to make a difference. There is more than enough to go around, but only if we stop spending frivolously for the benefit of huge corporations and simply share what we have with our fellow human beings. There are so many ways to share our relative abundance and to connect with those who have less. You can donate individually or collectively to your favorite charity, spend some quality time with friends and family volunteering for a great cause, or plan an acts of kindness advent for your family. Reach out to someone who is lonely or suffering by sharing your meal, listening to their story or simply letting them know you care.
  5. Don’t believe the hype — Stuff does not equal joy. After joyous celebrations, many of us wake up to an inevitable overwhelming and treacherous mess the day after our gift-giving holidays: piles of items we neither want nor need, trash bags full of discarded papers and packaging, the heavy and heart-wrenching burden of returning and regifting. The waste and inefficiencies of the holidays can put a big ol’ damper on all the fun festivities. The practice of over-consuming often turns good intentions and generosity into drudgery and uncomfortable obligations. Blech.
  6. Give the gift of not getting gifts — What do you get for the person who has everything they need and the means to get what they want when they want it? Um, nothing? Let’s face it, purchasing a gift for the sake of going through the motions feels contrived and wasteful. Sometimes we have the option to let each other off the collective hook and simply agree to ditch the ritualistic consumerism. Feeling sassy — or fed up — enough to try it? High five!
  7. Treat yourself — The holidays can be a very stressful time of year for many, but you don’t have to consume material goods to get a boost. Taking the time to fill your own cup with something warm and nourishing gives you more energy to share love with others. Recharge your batteries by bundling up to take a walk in the woods, laughing — or crying — with friends or by taking a nice long bath. In the hustle and bustle of the season, simple pleasures are where it’s at.
  8. Presence over presents — Ultimately, there are many ways to use holiday gift-giving as an occasion to share your time, talents and loving kindness with your special people. Whether you surprise someone with the promise of a fun outing or opportunity to learn something new, offer to lend a helping hand, or simply show up with hot buttered rum and make someone smile, time spent together can be an incredible gift. We can celebrate the relationships we already have and invest in them with our time and attention. You have the option to spend more time baking cookies with a child and less time sitting in traffic in cold, dark parking lots. We have a nearly endless supply of opportunities to create memories and a lifetime’s worth of time to enjoy them.

Now is the time to take a moment to start thinking about how we celebrate this season and determine if it truly enriches us in the ways we want and need. We may not have all the answers to make a perfectly peaceful and joyous holiday season, but we can start asking questions:

  • What will we do this year to bring more joy into our own hearts and the hearts of others?
  • Will this be the year we stop participating in rituals that make us feel sad, insecure and financially overextended?
  • How can we replace unhealthy habits with ones that make us feel more grateful, united, connected and harmonious?

The pressure to spend our social currency, time and hard-earned dollars feeding a never-ending cycle of insecurity and greed through the consumption of mass-produced material goods is immense. It’s up to us to remember that we have the power to spend our time, resources and energy wisely and generously to build relationships and communities that lift us all up. Maybe, just maybe, we can start to set down the shopping lists and bags of presents so that we may reach out our hands, hold those we love closer, and begin to spread love and kindness all year long.