By Jill Leibowitz, Psy.D.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the novel coronavirus and how this pandemic will play out over time. This uncertainty creates anxiety and depression for many of us. My play therapy with children, as well as observations within my own family, informs me that our children feel it, too. But there are things we can start doing today that will help our children—and us—feel better. One of those things is to practice gratitude, or thankfulness.
Gratitude helps us cope in times of crisisGratitude, which we feel when we count our blessings and pay attention to what we have—versus what we don’t have—is linked to many positive benefits, including:
It’s still important to acknowledge negative feelings I’m not suggesting that we deny our children’s fear, loss, anger or trauma. It’s crucial for children to express their negative emotions.
In fact, children often can’t let go of negative feelings until they’ve been acknowledged by and processed with another. But once validated, it’s important to help children shift their focus to other more pleasurable experiences and memories.
Being grateful takes effortPracticing gratitude can take some work, especially at times when we are overloaded with stress in times of crisis. But even when we don’t exactly feel grateful, we can still think about what we have and be grateful for it.
One way to do this is to take time at least once a week to focus our attention on some of the good things we feel grateful for. These can range from big things, such as being healthy, to smaller, more momentary experiences, such as the cool fort the family built in the living room, a Zoom reunion, or a walk outside. The benefits of gratitude can take a few weeks to develop, but once established, they have lasting effects on the brain and on mental health overall.
Building grateful habitsHere are some simple activities we can do with our children to cultivate gratitude.
The “Good Things” JarSeveral years ago, on New Year’s Day, our family made a “Good Things” Jar. Throughout the year we would write on small pieces of paper the good things we experienced, and placed them in the jar. Each subsequent New Year’s Day, we would empty the jar and read through all of the good things we recorded throughout the year—many of which had been forgotten.
Our “Good Things” Jar helped us remember our gratitude. These positive recollections lessened the negative impact of negative memories and helped build our emotional resilience—something we are sincerely grateful for as we head into an uncertain future.
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.