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By Emily Sommers, MSW – September 3, 2019

Mindfulness, simply put, means paying attention to the present. It means taking a step back and noticing the world around you and paying attention to your thoughts and feelings.

With practice, mindfulness can help both adults and children cope with stress and anxiety, and it has been shown to have positive effects on both physical and mental health. 

Many students I work with enjoy mindfulness through journaling. However, as much as they may like to write and express themselves, many have much difficulty getting started. I truly understand that “block,” because I have experienced this before as well. 

Several years ago a colleague and I were inspired to take a journaling class taught by local journaling expert Barbara Stahura. Barbara’s love for journaling planted many seeds and inspired me to use a tool that means so much to me to this day. 

What I did not know, and was excited to learn, was that this tool could provide a certain emotional, physical, and mental release. I personally use it and continue to develop on this tool in my own practice of mindfulness. 

Journaling has become a very big part of my own self-care. I am also able to teach it to students and adults that I get to serve in the capacity of supports provided through Youth First. 

One of my favorite journaling techniques is tapping into something I will call “a non-negotiable” – gratitude. I have found so many different ways to tap into gratitude through journaling.

Within the last year, I was provided a profound and simple suggestion I want to share with you that was a game-changer in the way I look at my gratitude list today. It is the self-reflective question, “What happened today that made me smile?”

That one-liner prompt written at the top of the page with some willingness to shut off any possible distraction can provide an oasis of positivity that is the best dose of goodness one can give themselves.  

I encourage you to try this for yourself! All it really takes is some willingness, honest reflection and open-mindedness to go within yourself about what happened in the course of the day that simply made you smile. 

Sharing this technique as it was shared with me can create that “a-ha” moment for others too, and once practiced becomes even more convincing. 

I would also like to encourage a suggested technique to test just how good this business of mindfulness is and to pre-measure feelings before doing the journaling activity, or any mindfulness activity for that matter. 

List a few feelings you are experiencing. For example, your list might include, “tired, stressed, and overwhelmed.” Complete the mindfulness activity whether it is journaling or another form of mindfulness that appeals to you.

The next step is to post-measure your feelings after doing the activity. List a few feelings you are experiencing immediately afterward. 

Often there is a shift that takes place within the way one feels and many will share feeling more relaxed, calmer, and happier. The results are undeniable and very encouraging. 

Gratitude does have a contagious element to it and could be just the key to establishing that dose of mindfulness needed. Go grab a pen see what happens for you! 

By Vicki Kirkman, LCSW, LCAC, Nov. 15, 2018 –

Imagine the following scene: There are bright balloons, a delicious cake and a room full of happy friends celebrating your child’s birthday.  As each of the birthday gifts is unwrapped, you hold your breath and wait for your child to say, “Thank you!”

It can be so disheartening when those words aren’t said without a reminder or “the look” from mom or dad.

Expressing gratitude doesn’t necessarily come naturally to young children.  It is normal and developmentally appropriate for younger children to be focused on themselves during their early years.

However, as children grow and their world becomes bigger, their ability to appreciate others and show gratitude becomes larger. Parents can help build their children’s awareness of gratefulness and teach them to demonstrate a grateful attitude. Listed below are some helpful tips.

  • Teach your child the simple but important practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”
  • Don’t miss an opportunity to catch your child doing something thoughtful! Acknowledge and praise what they did. Your kind words will set a good example for your child to use toward someone else.
  • Model your own gratefulness. Children will notice when their parent is grateful for a beautiful day, a door being held open, or a thoughtful gift from a friend.
  • Make it a daily or weekly habit to discuss what you are grateful for as a family. During dinner, in the car or before bed are great times to talk. Have each family member share one or two things they are thankful for and why. To begin the conversation it might be helpful to say, “What or who are you thankful for at home, school, or in the community?”
  • Foster experiences that allow children to help others. Volunteering at a food bank or animal shelter are great opportunities. Developing a list of random acts of kindness to check off together would be a fun way to teach children how good it feels to help others. Encourage your kids to identify the emotions they experience (happy, proud, helpful, nice, etc.).
  • Identify “helpers” with your child. Talk about the role of police, firefighters, military, teachers, and doctors. Discuss how each helper is valuable and do something to show gratitude toward them.  A simple note of appreciation or delivering cookies is a great way to say thank you!
  • Focus on sharing experiences instead of buying materialistic items. Leave the phone on the charger, turn off the television and enjoy the company of family. Use compliments and praise the strengths of each family member.
  • Get children involved in purchases. When your child wants the newest toy or electronic item, offer the opportunity to earn it by completing more chores or saving money to go toward the purchase.  The memory of working for it will hopefully create better maintenance of the item and a sense of ownership.
  • Engage older teens in discussions about world events. They are old enough to have their own thoughts and opinions about big issues that are happening. Talking about what is important to them and how it shapes their view on the world can be a great lesson in gratitude.

Start early and offer many opportunities to help children express and practice gratitude.  Teaching children how to express gratitude is a skill that will help them throughout their life!

By Laura Keys – Courier & Press – December 19, 2017 –

Have you ever noticed that no matter what happens in some people’s lives, they are able to maintain a relatively positive attitude and see the silver lining in each situation?

They see the opportunity in a challenging dilemma, and they appreciate what they have, even in the face of loss. That doesn’t happen by accident.

Fortunately, a positive attitude can be developed with a little practice. The brain is a muscle, and you can strengthen your mind’s natural tendency toward optimism if you work at it.

This is not just good practice for our mental health but for our spiritual health as well. Many different faiths emphasize the importance of thankfulness, especially as a form of prayer. Eckhart Toelle said, “If the only prayer you ever say is ‘Thank You,’ that will be enough.”

Thankfulness doesn’t always come easily, but it is at those times that we need to seek out gratitude the most.

One of the ways we can train our brain in thankfulness is keeping a gratitude journal. In one study, psychologist Jeffrey Froh at Hofstra University asked students to write in gratitude journals each day for two weeks.

Students were asked to write down things they felt thankful for on a daily basis. Three weeks later, the students who counted their blessings reported feeling more optimistic, more satisfied with their lives and had more school satisfaction.

Froh explained the results this way: “It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness… we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints; but also in the adult literature they found that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep, less likely to report these physical complaints.”

 Researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough also found many positive effects of keeping gratitude journals. Among the benefits were:

  • Being more likely to make progress on personal goals
  • Higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm and energy
  • Reporting having helped someone else or offered emotional support
  • Children reporting more positive attitudes toward school and their families
  • Adults with neuromuscular disease felt more optimistic about life and slept better

Twenty-one days is the time it takes to form a new habit. Now is an ideal time, as we prepare for the coming year and celebrate the holidays. It is a time to take stock of how we want our new year to unfold, and it’s a time to make promises to ourselves about improvement and renewal.

A different new year challenge than working on our outsides (gym memberships, new diets) would be to start with our insides (our hearts and minds). A gratitude journal could be just the thing to increase our compassion, optimism and humility.

Make this a part of your new year’s renewal. Select a special logbook that can be written in each day. At the beginning or end of the day, write down five things that make you feel grateful and thankful. You may feel like drawing a picture or attaching photos that mean something special to you. In any case, write down five items each day for three weeks.

If you have trouble getting started, think about simple or even obvious things like running water, your favorite song, coffee, that it snowed (or didn’t) today or experiencing another sunrise.

Once the list gets started, it’s easy to add items. At the end of three weeks, spend some time reflecting on the material you gathered. Meet a friend for lunch or coffee, and share your gratitude.

For more information on the benefits of gratitude see   happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/.

By Terra Clark, MSW, Courier & Press, November 7, 2017 –

Praise can have a powerful effect on children.  Parents, are we praising our children for what they’ve done well or just criticizing them when they don’t meet expectations?

We all want our children to do the right thing.  When they fail to do so, it’s easy to criticize, yell or express disappointment.

As a school social worker, I meet with parents all the time who say, “Why should I praise my child for doing something they are expected to do?”

If we constantly nag our children to do things differently, it puts everyone involved in a negative mindset.  Constant ridicule erodes self-esteem and confidence.

It is important to reinforce the good things children are doing.  Having an attitude of gratitude and praising children for the positives will ensure more positives come about.  What we focus on is what grows.

Expressing gratitude for your child’s good choices helps build their confidence and self-esteem for making positive decisions.

When we praise children, it’s easy to fall into a habit of saying the same things over and over.  Mix it up a bit to sound genuine.  Children will recognize your sincerity and respond positively.  Let the child know what they did right, what you appreciated about it, and how you would like to see it again.

Here are 101 Ways to Praise Kids.

That’s Incredible * How Extraordinary * Outstanding Performance * Far Out * Great * Marvelous * I Can’t Get Over It * Wonderful * You Should Be Proud * Amazing Effort * Unbelievable Work * Phenomenal * You’ve Got It * Superb * You’re Special * Cool * Excellent * Your Project is First Rate * Way to Go * You’ve Outdone Yourself * Thumbs Up * What a Great Listener * Your Help Counts * You Came Through * Terrific * You Tried Hard * Fabulous * The Time You Put In Really Shows * You Made It Happen * You’re A Real Trooper * It Couldn’t Be Better * Bravo * You’re Unique * Exceptional * You’re A Great Example For Others * Fantastic Work * Breathtaking * Keep Up The Good Work * Awesome * I Knew You Had It In You * You’ve Made Progress * Your Work Is Out Of Sight * What An Imagination * It’s Everything I Hoped For * Stupendous * You’re Sensational * Very Good * You Made The Difference * Good For You * A+ Work * Take A Bow * Super Job * How Thoughtful Of You * Nice Going * Class Act * Well Done * You’re Inspiring * How Artistic * You Go The Extra Mile * Hooray For You * You’re A Joy * You’re A Shining Star * You’re Amazing * What A Great Idea * Great Answer * Extra Special Work * You Deserve A Hug * You’re Getting Better * You’re Tops * You’re Catching On * You’re Neat * You’ve Got What It Takes * Spectacular Work * You’re A Winner * You’re #1 * Remarkable * Beautiful * Great Discovery * Clever * You’re So Kind * Wow * Magnificent * You’re Sharp * You’re Very Responsible *Brilliant * Thanks For Helping * Thanks For Caring * You’re A-OK * You’ve Earned My Respect * You’re A Pleasure To Know* You’re Very Talented * How Original * What A Genius * Very Brave * Congratulations * You’re A Champ * You Figured It Out * You’re Super * Right On * You’re The Greatest * You Make Me Smile

Children want attention; make sure you are pointing out the positives and giving praise daily. As caregivers it is our job to build children up and be positive role models. Children who are praised will, in turn, give praise to their peers and create a more positive, kind school environment.