By now you’re probably poised for “Back to School.” Backpack? Check √. School supplies? Check √. Lunch box? Check √. Positive attitude? Check √ Check √ Check √. But how long will it take for that positive attitude to wear off? For your focus to shift to the negatives, the problems, the feeling that it’s all just a grind? Don’t worry, the issues will crop up, and you will have to deal with them, but there are some things you can make part of your routine that help you and your kids focus on the positives throughout the school year. One way to keep up a positive “Back to School” attitude is through practicing gratitude, appreciation, and finding “3 good things.”
I can remember my own “Back to School” experiences, and those days when I was helping my child get ready to go back to school after the relatively carefree summer break. The smell of the clean crisp new notebook. The freshly sharpened pencils. Starting over with blank pages. Another chance to have a great school year. An even better one than last year. The promise of making new friends. Learning new things. Building new skills. And then, by around October, with about a quarter of the notebook filled and dogeared, the pencils dulled and bitten, I didn’t feel as positive — and neither did my kid.
How can we help our kids hold onto that hopeful positive attitude? The answer is not to get new school supplies (although, I have to admit that I still can’t resist the thrill of a fresh notebook!). One of the best ways to maintain a positive attitude throughout the school year is to practice gratitude, because as my friend Dr. Stephen Cowan tells his pediatric patients and their families: “Gratitude is the attitude.” What?
Research shows that when we focus on what’s going well for us and feel grateful for the good things we increase our positive emotions in the present, and become happier in the long run. And when we’re happier we increase our chances of being successful. Really. As happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar likes to say “When we appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”
Here’s a gratitude practice for the whole family that you can start on the first day of school and continue throughout the year. It all comes down to 3 good things:
Ask your child: “Tell me 3 good things that happened today at school.”
The 3 good things can be as basic as “the girl who sat next to me at lunch shared her cookie with me”; “my teacher told me I did a good job on my writing assignment”; “we got an extra few minutes of recess”….
You can incorporate a “3 good things” practice into your family’s daily routine in a variety of ways. When you send your child off to school each morning, you can set them up to notice the good stuff by telling them to find 3 good things that they can tell you about later. That way, they are looking out for the positive throughout the day. Or, just send them off with a smile and a kiss and when you pick them up, or have dinner together, or at bedtime you can review what happened today by sharing “3 good things.”
I like the idea of doing that with the whole family, no matter how old you are, whether your kids or teens are in school, you’re at work, or at home. No matter what your circumstance — even when you’re having a bad day, or bad week, or bad month — there is power in “positivity” by noting 3 good things that happened to you that day, or 3 good things that you did that day.
Some people like to keep a journal and write them down. You can make a ritual of reviewing the journal on a weekly basis to remind yourself of the little things that were good that week. You can keep your “good things” review private, or share them with others. By sharing them with others, you get to reminisce about them, doubling their positivity impact and allowing you to re-experience and savor them all over again! The possibilities are endless.
So instead of asking “How was your day?” or “What did you do in school today?” invite your child to tell you 3 good things that happened in school today. And make it a daily ritual.
You might want to try it yourself and keep a gratitude journal. It only takes a few minutes at bedtime to jot down 3 good things that happened in your day. You will all be more positive, a little happier, healthier, and more resilient in dealing with the “not so good” things that happen in school and in life.
Let’s focus on the possibilities for flourishing. Together we can Parent with Perspective.
Wishing you a happier 2016-17 school year!