How to Raise Grateful and Resilient Children
December 13, 2021
[Sara]: Gratitude wires our brain, it's part of resiliency. If you have high gratitude, if you're wired to not only see the negative, but you start seeing even in the worst of situations there are little things to be grateful for and the more our brain is wired to see those things, we move in that direction.
[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 9 of The Art of Raising Humans podcasts. You know, we took a week off, so we're a little week behind schedule simply because of the holidays with thanksgiving and I know we wanted to decorate the house for thanksgiving and then, Sara, you're so great at getting rid of those decorations, moving right into Christmas, but we had family in town. We've got a puppy, if you haven't heard us mention that before, which takes up quite a bit of our time as well. So, a week behind, so in December we're gonna have 3 episodes instead of 4, but our goal is each time to have one drop each Monday. So, if you're enjoying these podcasts, just want to make sure that, you know, you hopefully can bet on every Monday having a new episode drop.
[Kyle]: So, with the holidays, specifically with thanksgiving in mind, Sara and I were brainstorming about what we wanted to discuss this Monday and we really wanted to talk about gratitude and the power of gratitude and how it's changed how we parent. I never would have thought early on when we were going to have kids, that gratitude had been such an instrumental role in shaping me and shaping our kids, but it's really transformed quite a bit about how we approach them and how we approach the whole art of raising these little human beings. So, I wanted to ask you Sara, first of all, what's so important about gratitude? How does it shape our brains? Why is it an important tool in our tool belt?
[Sara]: I think gratitude is something that it's new, were newish, it's something that we've been-- The psychological feel that, you know, all the people studying our brain and studying what makes us happy people, resilient people, what helps us do well in life, gratitude has come on the scene in these last several years in a really big way and you may have heard about it, but I just want to real quick-- Gratitude is a little different than just feeling thankful or happy about something, gratitude is the practice of pulling something to mind that you're really grateful for and it's sitting with that thought. So, it is-- You have to wash your brain in it, because with gratitude you're trying to build new connections in your mind. Our brains naturally tend to the negative, we tend to fall into what is going wrong because that's how we protect ourselves, that's how we--
[Kyle]: How we survive.
[Sara]: Yeah, and we've had to do that for, you know, generations and generations and generations. If you were moving to the west from New York back in the day, you would have been on high alert for what could go wrong and it's a way to take care of ourselves, but we're so strongly wired to go to the negative, that we lose the benefits of the positive. So, gratitude is the practice of pulling something to mind that you're really grateful for, that you're really thankful for and as much time as we dwell on “oh no, what if?” or “this bad situation's happening at work”, we sit and we dwell on that and the whole time you're dwelling on it, your brain is building more and more connections around that negativity.
[Kyle]: To prepare for all that bad stuff to happen, yeah.
[Sara]: And so, your brain, you know, you've heard-- You have synapses and you have these connections that are in your brain and so, we want to build the positive too. So, gratitude is pulling into mind that positive thing, I mean, the easy one for most people “I’m grateful for my family”.
[Sara]: But I could say “I’m grateful for Kyle doing the dishes for me” and I don't want to just go “oh, I’m so happy he did that”. I want to pull it to mind and I want to sit and dwell on it and give my brain the time to build connections around the positive.
[Kyle]: There's a popular phrase and this psychology you're talking about called “What fires together, wires together”, right? And so, really, it's important to make sure we spend time, even looking at a beautiful sunset or that's where we get the idea of stopping and smelling the roses, you know? Instead of just walking through life, taking a moment to pause and really breathe it in, but most often we don't do that.
[Kyle]: And so, you said something interesting where you tied gratitude in with resiliency. How do those two go together?
[Sara]: So, resiliency, in short, we could probably do a podcast on resiliency, but in short, it's your ability to kind of bounce back. We all know the hard knocks in life come, we know how negative hard things happen and so, our ability to come back from that versus just taking us down. We've seen two people go through the exact same thing, one person they kind of come back from it, the other person they might be just washed up in it for a really, really long time and resiliency plays a big part in that, it’s their ability to bounce back and gratitude wires our brain, it's part of resiliency. If you have high gratitude, if you're wired to not only see the negative, but you start seeing even in the worst of situations there are little things to be grateful for and the more our brain is wired to see those things, we move in that direction. So, resiliency and gratitude go together, with the more gratitude we are, the more our brain is wired to move in that direction, it'll see opportunities and things that we otherwise might miss.
[Kyle]: I think before we had kids, I more bought into the idea you hear a lot, that bad things happen in threes or some kind of superstitious thing like that. So, all of a sudden, I found myself like the light bulb would go out in the kitchen and I’d be like “oh great, what's the other two things that are going to happen now?”, you know? Or something bad, also in the warning light would go on with the car and I’ll be “oh my gosh, what else is going to happen now?”. I’d immediately be preparing myself for the next bad thing that was going to happen and I think, as we started to study this, it was such a switch for me, which I didn't know how much was going to transform our parenting and I’m so excited to see how it's transforming our kids, just starting out their whole world view this way instead of waiting for the next bad thing to happen or waiting for the shoe to drop, right? That's another one.
[Kyle]: Is instead of thinking I’m going to prepare myself for the bad things, it's actually a lie that actually doesn't prepare me, it actually puts me-- It makes me more stressed, more anxious; it makes me more on high alert to look for bad things. So, even little things, like I said like, it seems silly, but a light bulb going out “there's another thing, there's another one”, yeah? And I was just looking for those things. Instead with the gratitude, I’m looking for the good things, right? I’m looking for the beautiful things, I’m looking for the things that I really love about living this life. Even the ability to wake up and breathe and to take that breath, to be able to have kids, right? I mean, some people-- You and I’ve had the opportunity to help families who couldn't have kids, you know? They wanted to have kids. I remember being with a woman who was just weeping in my office because she wanted to have a kid so bad and just her body wasn't allowing that to happen and the gratitude to even have a kid, you know? Even if the kids having problems, that we can have that kid can really help me then with the problems bounce back; is that kind of what you're saying?
[Sara]: Yes, yeah, it just-- it helps you and honestly, the more you look for those grateful things, the more you find and pretty soon they just seem to be coming out of the woodwork, even in the middle of something hard you'll see “wow, this happened and that happened and this” and it creates-- It just-- Obviously it builds. They found that with the practice of gratitude, it increases your health, your immune system actually goes up when you're practicing gratitude. Your happiness goes up, your kindness, your compassion, your ability to relate to other people, all of those things increase the more you practice gratitude, but going back to the brain part, it's something that you have to practice consistently. You can't “oh, I’m going to be grateful today” and reap all the benefits. The same with the negativity, the more negative you are, the more you practice negativity or being just, you know, it goes further and further in that direction.
[Sara]: So, at first, gratitude might feel clunky, it might feel uncomfortable, awkward, but the more-- Or you really have to think “all I can think of is ungrateful for my family”, but the more you practice it, the more you'll find, the more you get that wiring in your brain, the more automatic it comes and then you start reaping the benefits. You can't practice it for a week and go “where's my happiness?”.
[Sara]: You know, you have to practice it ongoing.
[Kyle]: It's got to be a discipline, that's what I remember, it's a discipline of gratitude and it makes me think of that statement “what you focus on, you get more of”. That when I’m focusing on things going wrong, you're going to find things going wrong, they're just going to be happening every day. This world, you're not going to have a perfect life, so there's always going to be places where things are falling short, but if I’m looking for things to be grateful for, I can find them as well any moment of the day, any second of the day, if I choose to take a moment to look for it and that's where I was thinking, you said this, it is also more, you know, I’m thinking as we're passing gratitude on to the kids, I would think if our goal is to raise grateful kids, that means you and I have got to make sure they say thank you, right? And that was it, cool. They said thank you, you know?
[Sara]: They're so grateful.
[Kyle]: If the kids just say thank you and so, like, when I give them something, I want them to say thank you and not to say that's not a part of it, that is a part of it, that is a part of the discipline you and I naturally-- Because we've immersed our brains in this, we naturally will say thank you, because we are naturally grateful, right? And so, we will do little things like, Christmas is coming up and you know, we're very intentional about saying to the kids “hey, this is what I want you to practice. I want you that when someone gives you a gift, to go over and say thank you, because they don't need to give you a gift” and just, “I want you to appreciate the fact that they took time to thank you” and that's important or even when our kids leave soccer or piano, you know, to say thank you to their teacher. That all that stuff is important, but I want to emphasize it's much deeper than that, that it's not just expressing gratitude with your words, it's actually approaching life with a mindset of gratitude, you know? And that's the shift that most of the families that come in to the practice, that need help or reach out to us for help, they've gotten into a mindset of just seeing lack.
[Kyle]: Their kid is not enough, they are not enough as parents and you just see a lack of gratitude across the board and what I’m thinking about, many times what I would be thinking about was “yeah, but what if their kid was dying of cancer? I bet they wouldn't be worried about this thing” and although that's true, there is some shame about that too like– Well, look at what other kids are going through and like, so that's also not what we're saying either. Even though that is true, there have been times--
[Sara]: It's not a comparison.
[Kyle]: It's not, it's not saying “well, my situation is--”, because I think we just then we beat ourselves up and we go “what is your problem? Why can't you just be grateful for what you have? Why are you complaining?” and then we do the same thing to our kids, you know? We pass it on. So, I want to, in this in this podcast, we may not be able to get to it in the time we have, we have to do a whole separate one, but really help articulate the difference in that. That I do see parents do that, I do see me do that where I’ll think “why can't they just be grateful?” and even in that, I’m being ungrateful, you know? By expressing it though, I’m shaming that. So, I’m trying to say like, what I wrote down when I was thinking about this was, I see gratitude as the antidote to shame.
[Kyle]: Okay, this is like, what's your initial reaction to that gratitude as the antidote to shame?
[Sara]: I just think “tell me more”.
[Kyle]: [Laughter] Okay. So, yes. So, think about shame, which is what ends up happening with kids like siblings, what happens in our relationships is, we start to think “this moment is not enough, these people are not enough”. We start to see lack everywhere and that's all birthed in shame, it's cultivated from shame. Gratitude's the exact opposite of that, “this moment is good enough, my wife is good enough, my kids are good enough. They don't need-- This moment doesn't need to change, I don't need to change to be loved, my wife doesn't need to be different to be loved. They're worthy of love in this moment, this moment is good enough as it is” and the reason why that's important, it's just true, this moment can't be any other moment than what it is now. So, I can either resist it and try to like, push it away, which I can't do or I can just accept it and be grateful for the fact that I get to have it with these people, you know? I’m even thinking about, I guess the example I think about immediately is, me being at Chick-fil-a with the kids and I remember particularly, I was really working on this within myself and you know, a lot of parents want to raise grateful kids, you and I do, want to raise grateful kids. We took the kids to Chick-fil-a, at that point food was a big issue, still can be at times and so, we were trying to-- I was trying to get a meal that there'd be no complaining about, you know?
[Kyle]: So, I go to Chick-fil-a, the kids love the chicken there and so, we sit down to the meal and I remember I was so hyper vigilant about this lack of gratitude, as soon as one of them was like “but dad, it's too hot. But dad--" like immediately my thought was like “oh my goodness, what if Sara and I had done wrong? How would we raise such ungrateful kids?” and so, I sat there for a second, I thought to myself “what is being ungrateful?”. It's thinking that these people or this moment isn't good enough and I’m thinking “wait a second, that's exactly what I’m feeling, I’m feeling a lack of gratitude”. Here I am with my three healthy amazing little children and all I can think about is how disgusted I am by them, because they don't-- because they're disgusted by the food. “Wait a second, I’m about to model the very thing I don't want them to do!”. So, I thought “how could I be grateful for ungrateful kids?”, right?
[Kyle]: So, the speech I was about to give Sara, was one of just shame like, “how can you not like Chick-fil-a!? This is crazy! What is your problem!?”. I wanted to just shame them, which would be exactly what a lack of gratitude is. So, I was able to stop and I just smiled and I just tried to think about what I liked about each of them and it was kind of hard at first, but I was able to do it. I was able to look at their cute little faces and their eyes and I just looked and said “I like you guys, even when you don't like Chick-fil-a. I think it's crazy you're saying this, but I still like you and I’m really glad I get to be your dad” and also, I saw a shift in the kids. All of a sudden, they were like “well, it's not that we don't like the food, dad, it's just like, this is-- I think if I blow on it--”, I was misinterpreting most of what was happening, you know? Through the eyes of shame, this lack of gratitude, so that's kind of what I’m saying.
[Sara]: Yeah, I think that story is such a great example of your brain was focused on the negative and once you start sliding down the hill, it's pretty easy to go fast into that and then the power of gratitude, when you were shifting into gratitude, gratitude helps relationships and so, immediately you do see that that connection with your kids actually grew, shifted you into a different place and that's a great example of the power of gratitude.
[Kyle]: So, what I hope to get and I notice we're talking about a big subject, but I’m hoping in this like 20 or so minutes, is for you and I to talk about the big picture, right? That for us, our journey and I want to eventually share these results of what's happened in our family because of this. You know. we started out as human beings, who were typical human beings that, you know, we were looking to protect ourselves, looking for, you know, the bad things that were happening and trying to stop those from happening, right? Whether it's financial things or you know, health things or like, I mean, I remember initially when we wanted to have kids, I was kind of holding off because my thought was “what if they get sick? How am I going to pay all those medical bills?” And I mean, my brain was-- I think I wasn't like “it would be a baby, this would be amazing!”
[Sara]: You kind of said this real quick, but trying to be alert for all that stuff, just like you said, doesn't actually work.
[Sara]: They've shown that people who are-- When we sit ready for that bad thing to happen, we're not any more ready, we're not any better at handling it when and if it comes, than if we don't sit there worrying, anxious, wondering, watching out. We're not any better for it, so why do we keep doing it?
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, that's great and so, the first shift was you and I intentionally choosing to focus on gratitude, right? So, becoming disciplined, okay? What that looked like? Sometimes it looked like intentionally writing things down daily I was grateful for, right? And intentionally meditating on those, because I knew and I know everyone who's listened this podcast knows, we mostly don't do that, we focus on all the ways we've messed up or the way things didn't go the way we thought or the ways people disappointed us or hurt us. I wanted a daily getting habit of focusing on things that I was grateful for.
[Sara]: Yeah, they've shown that when a negative thought comes into our mind, it sits there for a really long time, we can ruminate on it for hours, but when we pass a sunset or a really-- Someone could give you a brand-new car, maybe it could be huge and how our brain will stay on that moment so much less time, sometimes for mere seconds before it goes on to something else.
[Kyle]: What could go wrong, yeah.
[Sara]: So, naturally our brain sits on the negative, but runs right by the positive and we have to actively discipline ourselves, like you said, write it down, talk about it, but you have to sit there, pull that thought to mind and keep focused on it.
[Kyle]: Yeah, almost like, I just-- Like the idea of letting it breathe, just let it breathe for a minute. So, that looked like me writing or sometimes what I [Unintelligible] I may have mentioned so in the podcast, is just looking at the kids and when they're playing, because there'd be such an emotional reaction, when they were doing things I didn't want them to do, I didn't let emotions rise up when they were doing beautiful things like, just getting along, treating each other kindly and I would try to just look at them. Even like I’ve encouraged clients, if it's a struggle during the day, do it while they're sleeping, just look at their cute little faces while they're sleeping and just breathe them in, to then give yourself like, the wording I had was like, gratitude expanded me. It expanded my ability to love myself, to love you as my wife and to love my kids and to just love anybody in general I’m running into, you know?
[Kyle]: Like I love how Brennan does something really specific when he leaves soccer practice, he says goodbye to every kid on that team and I just said to Brenan like, “I love seeing your gratitude”. Like, it's like he's noticing each of the kids, to say “I value you, so I’m gonna say goodbye to you”, you know? He goes up to the coach without us prompting him to, “thank you coach for--” and it's like, it shows that he values and what that's gonna do, I really believe what we do to others comes back to us. He values himself, he values his own presence, right? So, it started with us first expanding ourselves with gratitude, it really expanded me, I really felt that. Then us in our marriage like, me intentionally-- I mean, just think, if people listening to this who are married woke up every day and thought about, you know, five things they loved about their spouse and just perfectly, just focused on those and just were grateful and I noticed there'd be times when you and I had stress in our relationship, I would start noticing all the negatives, I would immediately start thinking of all the ways--
[Sara]: Yeah, that's natural.
[Kyle]: All the things I didn't like about you, all the things that annoyed me, but when I’m in the mindset of gratitude, I’m like “yeah, there's always going to be those things, but look what else she is, look how awesome she is”, right? So, then that began to switch it to the kids. So, we started doing that with the kids.
[Kyle]: So, the last part I want to hit upon is, how does that help our kids become grateful human beings? It isn't just, not to say you can't do these techniques, I know a lot of parents like “tell me the roses and the thorns for the day”, you know? “Tell me three things you liked about--” those are all helpful techniques.
[Sara]: They're steps.
[Kyle]: But they're not going to get you grateful kids if they just see those techniques as the end, it's not, it's just a means to an end, right? And so, I have to model and talk our discussions as a couple, I just have to be focused on “we are enough”, not what you are lacking, right? If the kid can build from that space. So, then I’m thinking almost all of that, I was just dealing with some siblings the other day in my office, almost all of the sibling conflict is a lack of gratitude, you know? Like, I get to see only kids who wish they had siblings, I get to see siblings who wish they were only kids [Laughter] And they're all like, they're all wishing the situation was different. The only kid is so mad that he has no one to play with and then the other kid just wishes their siblings leave them alone, you know? And so, what we've noticed in our kids that I’ve been really, really excited about, is just seeing as we grow gratitude in our relationship and in our own hearts, they seem to be grateful for each other.
[Sara]: And I want to jump in there and say, so there's the gratitude of “oh, that's a gorgeous sunset. Oh, I have a new car. I appreciate this thing, this event or this thing”, but the deepest gratitude, the biggest effect of gratitude comes when you actually, what you keep giving the example of gratitude and relationships. So, you can say “I’m grateful for my family”, but think about “I am grateful for so-and-so's sense of humor. I am grateful for the way this child does this”. So, think about something, think about a person, think about a quality they have.
[Kyle]: That sounds very specific, what you're saying, a specific thing, yeah.
[Sara]: Yeah, the more gratitude, is the most powerful when its relationship focused and when it gets write down. Write it out, don't just write “I love john”, you know? But right out. What is about John? The more you write, the more you spend that deep dive in gratitude for that relationship and that person, the more it affects, the bigger effect it'll have on your brain and the bigger effect it has on your relationship with that person.
[Sara]: So, you were kind of mentioning relationship and the impact on the relationship and so, when you get kids practicing that with each other, when siblings are able to move in that direction.
[Kyle]: Articulate it to each other, yeah.
[Sara]: You see less conflict; you see them come together and problem solve things together. They don't see each other as something to be opposed, but somebody to work with and that we can do this.
[Kyle]: Yeah, they see each other as assets rather than deficits and so, lots of times when I’m working with siblings, I’ll ask them like, “what is it you love about your sibling?” And you can tell how much gratitude is in that home, if that kid can just rattle off, right? And also, what you're looking for is, you can be grateful, I guess, in some ways for how a kid performs or how a kid contributes, but even more, I want to see at essence who the kid is, you know? Like, what is it that we're grateful about who the child is? And so, in those homes, I’m trying to help those siblings. If a sibling can articulate that depth of gratitude, you're going to see much less conflict, you know? You're going to see them see each other as benefiting. So, like I just said this to a parent the other day who they were talking and they're bringing their kid to see me and it was this issue with siblings, right? And they're just saying “well, he does have this sibling, but they have so much conflict” and I said “wow, what an opportunity”, you know? And then they kind of laugh thinking I was joking. “No, it's fantastic like, every day you get to coach your kids to do conflict resolution, this is fantastic!”
[Kyle]: The kids who I have that are only kids, sometimes struggle, because they don't have those opportunities at home to do it with other kids. Siblings get to do it every day and those who have multiple kids, no, it's happening every day and what a blessing that is or even, I love what gratitude kind of taught me too is. When the kids are blowing up and throwing fits with us, how great that is, because you and I love them more than anybody else in the world and we get to help them, right? Instead of them throwing a fit with some stranger or some other person who doesn't know them as well, the place to throw the fit is with you and me.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, how wonderful that they get to learn at such a young age what to do with really big feelings. They're going to carry that through the rest of their life, but you can sit and think about, what is that-- You know, you can sit and ponder that and the role you get to play in that and the growth.
[Kyle]: Yeah. I wanted to say too, I guess in wrapping up. Something that really helps me to stay in the moment, something you and I early on I think as we pursued gratitude was, I found when they were going through these different developmental stages, they were kind of annoying, like not sleeping, like having gigantic tantrums a lot, you know? These things, my mind would want to slip to “I can't wait until they stop”, right? And it was just like holding on and like, “in three or four months it's going to be so much better”, you know? When really every developmental stage has its own set of issues, right? Just like every stage of marriage and any kind of relationship. So, if you get stuck on that, what I find parents do is, they can't wait until, bam! And then that's over.
[Sara]: I’ll just hang in there and survive this terrible time and it's going to get better. I’m just going to look at the future.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and so, then you and I purposely tried to just be intentional about not saying that, “I cannot wait until they stop doing this” instead of saying “no, I can and I actually want to be present and I want to be grateful for the fact that we're in this stage now”. Because every stage has its own set of challenges, but every stage is so important to their growth and if they don't go through that stage, they're not going to become fully integrated human beings.
[Kyle]: And so, many times I’m thinking “when you say that too, it trains the kid to think that too! I can't wait till mom and dad stop doing X, Y and Z”, right? Or “I can't wait until we move into a bigger house. I can't wait until we get that dog”, you know? Whatever it is, it's like always, you know, happiness and contentment is always somewhere else. It's not right here.
[Sara]: Yeah, gratitude ground you to the present, brings to light all the wonderful things that are right, here right now, because all you have is this moment, you don't actually have the present or the future [Laughter] You actually don't have the past, all you have is this moment. So, that's what your body, brain-- It's there, so let's soak that in, let's find all the richness that's happening around you.
[Kyle]: Well, in light of that, Sara, I want to say I’m grateful for all the people who listen to this podcast, right? I know you and I-- I’m very grateful I get to have these conversations with you and I’m grateful that we get to share them with other people, because they’re conversations you and I have had a lot, and I know people have asked us about these conversations, but now we actually get to share them with them. So, I just want to say I’m grateful to everybody who's listening and I would love, I would love, love, love you to respond back, you know? Feel free to comment on this podcast in particular. You can always reach us at parentinglegacy.com. We have a Facebook page, we have an Instagram account, you can find us there and would love, how you practice gratitude in your family? What's some ways you struggle with it? What some ways you're really intentional about it? I mean, there's a lot of fun things around the holidays to do that really helps practice gratitude, during thanksgiving and Christmas and other times like that. So, we'd love to hear all those.
[Kyle]: So, we really appreciate you giving us, you know, a five-star review on iTunes or whatever you're listening, to help increase our reach and we just want to say we're thankful for you being part of this conversation and we hope you'll join us for the conversation we're going to have next week. Have a wonderful day.
[Kyle]: The Art of Raising Humans podcast should not be considered or used as counseling, but for educational purposes only.