Yup, it’s true. Even kids with their lovely, amazing, creative and plastic minds can get stuck in a negative rut.
If a child is having a hard time at school, then it’s easy to get into a habit of feeling bad, or a habit of not liking school. Even if the situation changes, like moving up to a new grade, or moving to a new school, the child may still feel negative about school.
This is because your mind is wired to give you more of what you’ve already experienced – in the absence of being told what you would prefer. Your brain puts down neural pathways that it uses again and again, until you decide to change (or when change is forced upon you, like an accident or medical emergency), then it puts down a new pathway. Same with your subconscious. It will bring you what you’ve had in the past, unless you tell it otherwise.
For older kids, it’s possible to talk about turning over a new leaf, seeing the opportunities of the new school, and deciding (an intention) to give it a chance. It’s also possible to explain the power of gratitude, and how having that ‘attitude of gratitude’ is the most important and empowering thing they can do to alter their situation at any given time.
For younger kids though, say pre-school through junior high, these concepts might be too vague.
What is gratitude for a young child?
While some kids say their prayers and list what they are thankful for, many times these lists are pretty generic. The result is a lack of energy and enthusiasm behind the statements. For example, “I’m thankful for my parents, my little brother and my dog.”
Sure, the child likes those things, but without the specifics of WHY the little bro or the dog are good, the words quickly lose their meaning and intensity. If the child says the same thing every night by rote, then there are no changes in the brain or the mind.
Feeling true gratitude means the person really feels love and happiness in their hearts when they experience or remember an event, person or word spoken. Every time you relive a good event with intense emotion, a new neural pathway is laid down, and your mind says – ah, so THIS is what you want. No problem. Let’s go!
Three good things
To get strong gratitude statements from your child, ask them to tell you three really good things that happened to them during their day. Here are some guidelines to make this a success:
- Do plan for it in advance. Springing it on your child, demanding three good things out of the blue, is a sure way to shut this whole thing down before you even start. The day or night before, tell your child that you are starting a new positive review, and to be on the look out for positive things to share with the family the following day.
- Do set a regular time to say the three good things. My family does this every night during dinner. We take turns between my two daughters going first. Mom and dad also share our three good things – it’s only fair you do it too, and you’ll get the benefits along with your child.
- Everything is fair game. If you child says finding a worm made for a good day, then that was a good day. Please leave your mind completely open to what may be ‘good’ in your child’s life. Truly, it is the small things that bring the most joy.
- Do help your child. Go ahead and point out positive things that happen to your child during the day. Say things like, “Wasn’t that a nice experience. This might make the Three Things list tonight.”
The ‘why’ is key
The word ‘because’ is very important. This is the reason something is good, or fun, or fantastic. As your child tells you their good things for the day, after each one, gently ask the reason why it make the list. “Math was good.” Really? Why? “Well, we did fractions review and I finally got it.” Other questions to get the because statement are: How so? Really? What specifically happened? I’m interested/curious about that. Tell me more.
As you and your child get better at finding three good things and explaining why they were so good, you will start to get statements like:
- I had a great time at recess because we played tag and I won.
- Math was actually easy today because Mr. Math Teacher reviewed fractions and I finally got it.
- And gym was fun because we started basketball and I’m really good at it.
Okay, they won’t sound exactly like that because your child will take a million left and right turns while telling their story, and it will be full of inconsequential details, but the essence will be there.
There are several things going on here
First, by answering the ‘so what’ question with a solid ‘because’, you’ve nailed it. Your child subconsciously knows why they had a good day, and this brings it to the surface, so they consciously understand what makes them feel good.
Second, the more precise the statement, the more investment the child has in it. As the child remembers finding the worm in the puddle and moving it to higher ground, those feelings of doing good are pulsing through their body. This is way more powerful than saying “I like worms.”
Third, when your subconscious knows it has to find three good things to talk about, guess what? It helps you find those three good things! This is a self-perpetuating cycle of positive situations begetting more positive situations.
This is where the magic happens. This is when the brain puts down new neural pathways looking for and reinforcing positive behaviours and outcomes. This is when the mind and subconscious realize you want more positive interactions in your life, and it actively works to get you more.