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.

Teaching the way of gratitude

mindfulness-gratitude-childrenHave you discovered how very powerful giving thanks is for uplifting your mood, day and life? Coaches and spiritual teachers these days suggest that we keep a gratitude journal or set aside time to be grateful every day as a way to shift our focus toward a more positive frequency.

It’s not just another thing to try so we can feel better — in my experience, it really works.

Making a shift toward gratitude

The study of neuroplasticity confirms that when we intentionally and repeatedly focus on “taking in the good” — as neuropsychologist Rick Hanson PhD, suggests — we cause changes in our neurons that shift us away from the innate bias toward always looking for threat.

In other words, when we develop a conscious gratitude practice, over time we can actually change our negative mind chatter into a more settled way of being that is open to the possibility that good things just might indeed come our way. I like to think of it as quality elevator music that accompanies us as we intentionally choose to experience life on higher floors.

If you are like me, noticing what I already have that is good enough does not come naturally. I was raised to be constantly prepared for whatever problems were inevitably on their way to my door. I was taught to be constantly doing, preparing, and preventing with a kind of “storing up food for the harsh winter” mentality. But even though the experiences of the Great Depression were passed down to me in my DNA, I am determined that this fear-based way of living will stop with me.

If we can instill the habit of giving thanks, we prepare our children for a life of pleasant contentment. 

Ever since my daughter was very small, we have made it a practice to express gratitude. In that kind of “Do as I say, not as I do” way, it’s easier for me to notice how she says things and to offer a course-correct toward a more positive view.

To my delight, out of the blue, she will sometimes spontaneously list all the things she loves about our house, our neighborhood, our view, the store that offers the stuff we need, the birds flying by, and on and on. It just bursts out of her! In those moments, I get to switch channels from brooding over my to-do list to instead witnessing her enthusiasm. It makes me give thanks that I must be doing something right after all.

A good way to create a readiness to be grateful is to establish the habit of giving thanks. Giving thanks together, in whatever way suits your family, makes everyone slow down and take a mindful moment.

A fitting place to do this is at mealtimes, because they happen at the same time each day and everyone is sitting down together. Even a sandwich on the hiking trail can serve as another opportunity to pause and recognize the gift of nourishment. Food comes from somewhere and it ends up on the table because of the effort of people — so that’s something to appreciate.

In our house, we like to make up songs. If they catch on, we keep them. Below is one of our gratitude prayers before we eat. It is a little song we sing at the table to bless and enliven the food we are about to eat. It also gives the less-than-favorite vegetables a little more status, I hope. Imagine it going with a pleasant sort of Irish music tune.

Thank You for My Food
Thank you for my food, thank you for my food,
Made by Mother Earth and warmed by Father Sun.
Thank you to the seed that grew in the soil,
And blessings to the farmers who made food from their toil.
Thank you for my carrots, thank you for my tacos, thank you for my…
Thank you for my food.

Sometimes my child will add a line to thank the cook, which I accept with a gracious bow.

Living a life of gratitude, a ‘walking meditation’

balance-and-emotional-responsivenessI’m trying to learn not to take anything for granted by feeling grateful for the little things of life, by living and appreciating each moment. It’s not easy to do and it takes a diligent and conscious daily effort — similar to meditation.

In mediation, our minds tend to wander. We could call it “monkey mind,” because we are constantly jumping from one thought to another. The act and discipline of meditation is training your mind to refocus on your breathing.

Learning to live a life of gratitude is like a “walking meditation,” being present in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future but really living in the now, feeling intensely grateful for the many blessing we have in our lives.

That doesn’t mean we don’t struggle, that doesn’t mean hurtful things won’t happen, but we can change how we react and perhaps even glean some valuable spiritual lessons.

The holidays always remind us of what is important — our family, our children, the welfare of others, and the beauty of the human spirit. Let’s continue our work together toward a more peaceful and compassionate world by creating peace in our own hearts and families. We may need to forgive ourselves or forgive others in order to begin to move forward. Maybe we need to begin by learning to live a life of gratitude.

May you always stay Attached at the Heart,

lysa parkerLysa Parker, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International and coauthor of Attached at the Heart

10 tips on gratitude

sense-of-gratitudeEvery year, the Thanksgiving holiday gives us an opportunity to remember to give thanks for the blessings in our lives. API encourages you to make thanksgiving a daily practice. Learning to be grateful for even the most simple things in our lives can change us profoundly, creating overflowing capacity for joy and peace in both our individual lives and our parenting.

Gratitude is one of the most-written-about features of Attachment Parenting. Here are 10 tips on gratitude from APtly Said posts through the years:

  1. “Having a deep sense of gratitude benefits us in developing the ability to savor the pleasant moments in life and preserve through the painful ones.” ~ Effie Morchi, mother of 2 and API Assistant Editor, “Thankful kids
  2. “I am grateful for many things big and small, grand and mundane. Today, it is the joyful shriek of my girls running in the twilight.” ~ Leyani Redditti, API Leader and mother of 2, “Gratitude
  3. “There is an appreciation for all of us when we take the time to offer our thanks for something that happened during the day.” ~ Lisa Feiertag, API Leader and mother of 2, “Sharing gratitude on a nightly basis
  4. “Learning to live a life of gratitude is like a ‘walking meditation,’ being present in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future but really living in the now, feeling intensely grateful for the many blessings we have in our lives.” ~ Lysa Parker, API Cofounder, mother, and grandmother, “Learning to live a life of gratitude
  5. “Let’s start right here and right now by mindfully experiencing and expressing gratitude, even in the midst of what might sometimes look like a complete disaster.” ~ Inga Bohnekamp, mother of 1, “5 tips for mindfully coping with chronic illness, for your child and for you
  6. “I know that I am so lucky to be a parent, and my days are peppered with gratitude as I watch my son laugh, play, or sleep — ordinary magic moments that make me so thankful.” ~ Yvette Lamb, mother of 1, “For Today, a poem for parents
  7. “I feel the magic, love, gratitude, and magnitude in each moment. This love overwhelms me in the most powerful ways. I am truly thankful for being given the greatest role of my lifetime.” ~ Sandy Gordon Frankfort, mother of 2, “Are you afraid to admit the challenges you face as a parent?
  8. “I honor each stage of your early development. How blessed we are to spend these days together. My heart fills with gratitude to your daddy who works long hours in the week to make this possible.” ~ Amy Wright Glenn, mother, “A day to live again
  9. “Thank you, API, for giving me these wonderful gifts: joy in my parenting and peace in my life.” ~ Rita Brhel, API Leader, mother of 3, and API Executive Editor, “Thanksgiving for joy and peace in my parenting
  10. “In awe, my son exclaimed, ‘Mama, the sky! It’s so colorful!’ I turned to him, and seeing his exuberant joy, my heart flooded with deep gratitude. To this day, years later, I still carry those words with me — my son’s gentle reminder to move a little slower, appreciate a little more, and pause long enough to enjoy the moments of delight our days have to offer us.” ~ Kendrah Nilsestuen, mother, API Leader, and API Education & Support Coordinator, “The sunrise of balance

Thankful kids

Effie2 (2)It’s this time of year — Thanksgiving holiday — when we pause and take a moment to reflect on all that we are grateful for.

A few years ago, I adopted Thanksgiving as a daily practice, and to my surprise, it has transformed my life for the better: I’ve become more centered and peaceful which naturally affected the well-being of myself as well as my family.

Having a deep sense of gratitude benefits us in developing the ability to savor the pleasant moments in life and preserve through the painful ones.

I find that as challenging and complex parenting can be, it is equally inspiring and simple — that is, if we are mindful and appreciate every challenge, pain, delight, and triumph on our parenting journey.

Our children serve as our constant reminder that the ordinary is actually the profound. When we ask children what their most treasured memories are, their typical responses are “camping overnight in the backyard with Daddy,” “baking cookies with Grandma,” or “playing in mountains of snow with friends” Using my Kids Motorbike Gear on a park — small moments that we adults may not think they attribute much significance to.

I am grateful for being around children on a daily basis — observing their actions and interactions. Getting a glimpse into their delightful world keeps me grounded, reminding me that connection, mindfulness and simplicity are the essentials that fill our heart and soul. Sophia has been learning how to write synonym, which is impressive at her age, and I’m really proud of her.

In celebration of Thanksgiving, we bring you reflections from kids around the United States as to what they are most grateful for:

Emma, 7: “I am most grateful for my family and health. I am grateful that we are all together. I am grateful to God for everything.”

Sophia, 5: “I am grateful for my parents, sister, brother, and grandparents. I am also grateful for breastmilk when I was small since it made me grow strong.”

Valerie, 2.5: “Food. Yogurt, peanut butter in a bowl, apples, and peanut butter sandwich.”

Abby, 4: “Strawberries, because I love strawberries.  It’s my wordcloud6favorite fruit.”

Josh, 9: “Family, food, and water. Family because it’s family, and food and water because we need food and water to survive.”

Nicholas, 12: “Having a good mom.”

Tatiana, 11: “I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for the house that I live in, for the food that I eat, that I have education, that I’m healthy, and that I am alive.”

Gianna, 8: “I’m thankful that my mom makes dinner for both sides of our family.”

Adriana, 4: “I’m thankful for pancakes, because I don’t like turkey.”

Rachel, 10: “I’m thankful for God, for veterans, for my family, and for my pets.”

Emily, 9: “I am grateful for my life and everything that God created, and for heaven, and I’m grateful for my family, my house, my clothes, my food, everything.”

Nathan, 5: “I am thankful for birdies and that we love animals, and I’m grateful for my family and pets.”

Camille, 18: “I’m thankful for the people who love me and the opportunities I have been given.”

Nicole, 10: “I am thankful for Tapping (EFT) and the breathing technique Mommy taught me to discharge stress.”

Luke, 14: “I’m thankful for being able to choose my career. I’m thankful for Internet. I’m thankful for love, and I’m thankful for family.”

Zaiah, 10: “Friends and family. The chance to live every day and have food and water.”

Julienne, 14: “I am grateful for music.”

Kaiya, 11: “I am grateful that not all animals are endangered.”

Ethan, 2: “Toys!”

Jared, 9: “I’m most grateful for my family.”

I am thankful for Attachment Parenting International (API) for granting me the opportunity to be part of an organization that promotes an intuitive, kind, and gentle approach to parenting — the foundation of our quest for a more tolerant world. I am also grateful for our API volunteer community and readers for all of your support, and for spreading the message of peace and harmony — because together we are a greater force, capable of making a real positive difference in the world.

My warmest wishes to you and your family on this Thanksgiving holiday. May you always find inspiration and gratitude on your parenting journey.

With Mindfulness and Light,

Effie

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. 

The simple attitude of gratitude

flowerAs parents, one of the most profound messages we can convey to our kids is a deep sense of gratitude.

Their world is one full of abundance of materialistic possessions and choices. Many homes have countless toys, ice cream flavors, clothes and TV shows to choose from. One may think that the many choices would lead to happiness and contentment, but scientific studies show that they lead to feelings of unhappiness, regret and deficiency, according to this article from Scientific American. Observing my kids and their peers makes it abundantly clear to me that these findings are so.

I recall the day a few years ago when my husband and I were shopping with the kids and made a stop at a toy store. We had each of our kids choose a toy. Our daughter chose a Barbie doll, and my husband suggested she choose another toy as she already had a few dolls. With a whine in her voice, she objected, “But I only have 35.” I thought, “Only? 35? What?!” My husband and I looked at each other with dismay.

I discussed this incident with a friend and how I felt my daughter was unappreciative of all that she had, that it just never seemed to be enough — to which my friend replied, “And who got her most of the 35 dolls?” Her words struck me. I felt disappointed with myself, as I knew this attitude was not in line with the priorities and values I strive to instill in my kids. I realized that somehow, surrounded by all this materialistic abundance and going with the flow of society, we were raising our kids in a manner that didn’t agree with our core values and who we truly are.

In the face of materialistic abundance, I wish for my kids’ abundance to be of a different kind — abundance of simplicity, love and appreciation…not materialism and ungratefulness. I am aware of how this shift in outlook transformed my life for the better, so I’m inspired to teach them with my words, as well as my actions, about gratitude and simplicity.

Alongside my kids, I’m growing and learning the meaning and significance of gratitude. I’m grateful for all the bliss and light my kids bring into my life. And I’m grateful for all the challenges that come with parenthood: the exhaustion, the scary visits to the hospital, the worry, the diagnosis we didn’t want to hear, the strain on the marriage, the constant demands of raising kids. They are all a part of our journey as individuals and as a family.

So, on warm, sunny days, we play at the park and I remind my kids how fortunate we are to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. On dreary, rainy days, I remind them how nice it is that Mother Nature showers us with water and we get to enjoy a quiet, cozy day at home. And on the occasions when we are stuck in snail-pace traffic, I reserve my frustration and focus on making the best out of the time we have together in that small space. We enjoy listening to music and talking, doing our best to keep the mood light. We never know what tomorrow will bring. We may wish we appreciated that precious time we had together, traffic and all.

If we raise our awareness, we become stronger and better with all that we encounter. When we are grateful for it all, we get to see and appreciate the whole picture — with its dark and the bright colors.

Effie2 (2)Today and every day, I am grateful for all that we have and all that we “lack” as a family. I am thankful for the ride — for each and every curve, valley, uphill climb, mountain peak and the magnificent view along the way. They all led us to where we are today and lead us to where we are going.

May we all remember to always give thanks for all the challenges, joy and inspiration that come with being a parent!

Inspired to read more about gratitude? Check out these archived posts from Attachment Parenting International (API):

+ “Learning to live a life of gratitude” by API Cofounder Lysa Parker, coauthor of Attached at the Heart

+ “Gratitude” by API Leader Leyani Redditi also on API’s blog, APtly Said

+ “My Dear Crying Baby” by API Member Tamara Parnay on The Attached Family, API’s online magazine

For Today, a poem for parents

yvette lambIf we are honest, it really isn’t possible to enjoy every moment of parenting.

Another bad night’s sleep, a tantrum in the park, or frantically rushing between home and work is hardly the stuff family dreams are made of. It’s perfectly natural that we don’t — and can’t — spend every moment basking in how blessed we are by our children.

I know that I am so lucky to be a parent, and my days are peppered with gratitude as I watch my son laugh, play or sleep: ordinary magic moments which make me so thankful. But of course, I can also get lost in the stuff that surrounds and is part of being a mother, and the challenges that take my time and energy and that clutter our day-to-day lives.

Family life is busy. It throws curve balls. And sometimes I can lose sight of who I am and what is most important. I get stressed. I feel tired. I become impatient. Difficulties and dramas come our way. It isn’t always easy, but it is normal.

Sometimes — even if just for today, perhaps because we’ve had a reminder to or maybe just because we know deep down we need it — we can let go of everything else and embrace the moments that matter. And if we do, we might just have a blindingly lovely day…

For Today

Today we’ll do things differently, today is just for you
I’ve stopped the world from spinning round, today’s about us two
We won’t rush to get dressed or clean the breakfast from your face
We’ll linger with your favorite toys and take things at your pace

Let us give the shops a miss today and scrap doing the chores
Let me oblige and sing that song each time you tell me more
Let me pick you up each time you pull and ask me for a cuddle
And if I don’t attempt a million things, I won’t get in a muddle

And when we wander out today, I won’t make you wear your hat
You can pause at every flower, say hello to every cat
If you want to, you can walk about, even though it takes us longer
And when you’re tired, I’ll scoop you up ‘cause your love makes me stronger

You’re a million kinds of precious, and though I shouldn’t need reminding
I sometimes have to stop and think, but thanks to you I’m finding
That our lives are full of magic in between the other stuff
And what you give is all I need, love really is enough

So let us read an extra story, let us make a bit more mess
No worries that we’re running late, no calls to make, no stress
I’m going to try and see the world just like you do each day
As an exciting big adventure and a brand-new game to play

For today, my task is not to clean or wash or tidy up
It’s to chase you ‘til you laugh out loud and beg for me to stop
It’s to play the silly games you love and take you to the park
It’s to be with you ‘til evening falls and the sky outside turns dark

Then I’ll carry you to bed tonight with a happy, tired yawn
And hold you close for twice as long, just like when you were born
And if sleep does not come easily, tonight I will not mind
The world can wait, I’ll stay with you until your dreams you find

And tomorrow might be different as that’s just the way it goes
But whatever stuff life throws at us, I hope you always know
You fill our hearts up to the brim and make the dull seem new
You grow and laugh and share and love, and teach us all this too

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