By: Ann-Noelle McCowan, M.S., RYT
Guidance Counselor; Yoga Specialist
Each school year I observe the fluctuations of student and adult stress, and each August the return of relaxed and recharged kids and adults. For many, summer means a slower pace and longer days filled with activities that bring joy and support our health and happiness. Time with family, friends, and pets bonds us with others. We’re connected with nature through the fullness of trees or the heat of the sun, and our perspectives are turned outward with less time inside on screens and gaming devices. We’re renewed with less packed schedules, fewer alarms, more sleep, and our bodies are nourished by eating outside, less complicated meals and more fruits and vegetables. So how can summer’s ease and joy build our resilience to handle the natural unavoidable stressors of the school year and seasonal changes? By starting a gratitude practice.
Gratitude practices that amp up “Vitamin G” have been shown to help people feel better about their lives, experience higher levels of positive emotions and have fewer physical problems or even feel less pain. Vitamin “G” helps us act kinder and more generous towards others, feel less stress and then handle stress better when it shows up, as well as get more exercise, eat healthier and sleep better! Neuroscientists have said that our brain has a “negativity bias” where our minds respond like velcro for bad thoughts and Teflon (non-stick) for good thoughts. Vitamin “G” to the rescue! When we are thankful, it helps stop negative thoughts and increases the feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Summer naturally provides time and opportunities to teach kids about gratitude, to practice the crucial ability to notice and acknowledge things in their life that bring them pleasure. Now how to begin…
- Start by thanking your own children and help them learn about appreciation. Don’t worry too much about younger kids who might say they are thankful for a toy, you are building the idea of gratitude. It’s the practice, not perfection. Feel free to connect Vitamin G to other important nutrients or times when you have asked them to thank others.
- Use age-appropriate language: we are going to learn how to name/ acknowledge/ build an account or recording of things that make us feel happy/ appreciative/ lucky/grateful. Give some examples of the benefits of Vitamin “G”. Explain that deposits to this “bank account” builds a mind that feels happier, less stressed and healthier.
- Decide how you want to recognize daily gratitude. It could be a journal, a jar, a shared blog, drawings, colleagues, voice or video recordings, or a routine prayer with your child at night. I’ll expand on how to build a gratitude jar but experiment and choose what works for your child and family.
- Gratitude Jar: Essentials are a writing utensil, slips of paper and a vessel to store your “gratitude slips” in. You could have your child pick one or two shades of colored paper or a special pen for recording, the jar could be decorated with pictures of things they enjoy or a beloved pet or kept blank to view the collection.
- Cut up a few different sizes of rectangle slips of paper, or print a few prompts if that works for your child. Examples of prompts could be: Today I loved… I’m thankful for….. I appreciate that … I’m grateful for… I liked it when … I felt happy when….I feel good when.
- Make a commitment to model this on a daily or routine schedule with your child, start recording and watch their account grow.
Your Vitamin G project will hold beautiful recollections of summer as well as teach your child an important habit of mind and useful stress buster tool. Starting a gratitude practice will build resilience and empower them to find moments of happiness and goodness even when summer ends. Enjoy and have fun!
About the Author:
Ann-Noelle provides therapeutic yoga-counseling sessions individually designed for each child. NESCA therapeutic yoga establishes a safe space for a child to face their challenges while nourishing their innate strengths using the threefold combination of yoga movement, yoga breath, and yoga thinking.
Ann-Noelle has worked with children and adolescents since 2001 and practiced yoga and meditation since 2005. Since 2003 she has been employed full time as a school counselor in a local high performing school district, and prior to that was employed in the San Francisco Public Schools. Ann-Noelle received her dual Masters Degree (MS) in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy (MFCC), and School Counseling from San Francisco State University in 2002, her BA from Union College in New York, and her 200 hour-Registered Yoga Credential (RYT) from Shri Yoga. Ann-Noelle completed additional Yoga training including the Kid Asana Program in 2014, Trauma in Children in 2016 and Adaptive yoga for Parkinson’s in 2014.
For more information on the therapeutic yoga at NESCA, please visit https://nesca-newton.com/yoga/
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.