My brother was seeking a way to stay close to his kids during a very tumultuous time in his life and he asked the advice of a family counselor.
She suggested the emotions bowl.
Since then he and I both have added this ritual into our days. It is a simple way to increase connection and emotional regulation with your kids.
Family emotional health starts with being able to talk about our emotions. And we can’t do that without having a wide ranging awareness of what these emotions are and how they come up in big and small ways during our days. Along with awareness, we need to know it is safe to express these emotions in our family. The emotions bowl gives you a tool to open up conversation about emotions.
The premise: you write down the 8 core emotions on slips of paper. Each person takes a turn a pulling a slip out and talking about when they had that emotion. Other family members listen without judging, trying to solve, or commenting. Just listening, providing a safe place to talk.
Here’s how to use the emotions bowl to begin to increase emotional fluency in your family:
We just use a little wooden bowl to hold the emotions. In my (Alissa’s) family we actually went to the craft store and bought little wooden disks we could paint and write the emotions on. Obviously just slips of paper work fine! We just made the disks because it seemed fun.
Each person takes turns pulling out an emotion then talking about when they had that emotion during the day.
For the listeners – the point of this exercise is to make a safe space to talk about emotions, so the listener’s only response is to listen to the person talking about when that emotion came up. It’s important to note that the listeners just validate the speaker’s experience. They don’t need to agree that they would have felt the same thing. Our usual reaction is simply nodding and, maybe a simple repeating back to make sure I understood. Very young children may need a little help, but very quickly they will be able to come up with their own emotional events.
The important things is that you just listen as the person talking tells about their emotion – no trying to come up with solutions or fix their emotions. This is not a problem solving time, it is a listening time. Emotions come and go, they don’t always need to be acted on.
Also, many time the emotions bowl doesn’t bring up some deep emotional conversation and that’s completely fine! We feel a variety of emotions in a variety of depths. This exercise helps us become get mindful about internal experiences, and gives us a chance to practice expressing what we feel.
For instance a recent interaction in our family went something like this:
Kid – (draws ‘sadness’ out of the bowl)
Me – Ok, when did you feel sadness today?
Kid – Sadness is a hard one. I don’t feel it much.
Me – It doesn’t have to be a big sadness, it can be little too. (Then I’m quiet to see if she talks more, leaving the space open for her to think of a sadness. A little open ended encouragement is ok, but mainly being silent and waiting is important. Many times kids just need time to think, even if they at first say they can’t think of anything.)
Kid – Oh, I was sad when I opened the pencil sharpener.
Me – Oh? You were sad when you opened the pencil sharpener?
Kid – Yeah! The pencil shavings spilled all over! I was sad about the mess!
Me – (Noticing that indeed she still has some shavings on her shirt and chair…) Ah, you opened the pencil sharpener and the shavings fell out all over you and the floor. You felt sad about that?
Kid – Yeah. It made a mess.
Ok – I admit that in this moment, inside I thought, “But is that really sadness?” I had an urge to tell her how she felt, but I didn’t. The point of the emotions bowl is to grow emotional awareness. She’ll have plenty of times to hear more and think more about sadness. Hearing her emotions and listening is validating of her experience and it teaches her to trust herself.
Using the emotions bowl in this non judgmental way shows your kids that all emotions are something that can be talked about in your family, not just the happy ones. It gives vocabulary around the variety of emotions they feel and it helps them have awareness and curiosity about their emotions.
My brother says, “One of the fun things that we like about it is that the first question used to always be, ‘What if I don’t feel that?’ and I would say, ‘Well I bet if you think really hard you’ll think of some time you felt that.’ and then it becomes a game to think of a time. We’ve never pulled an emotion out where the person couldn’t think of some time during the day where they felt that and sometimes it’s something funny like, ‘I felt disgust when I saw that sandwich this morning or whatever.’ but it’s like we can play with the emotions.”
The other nice thing about little routines like the emotions bowl is that they require no set up (beyond the first time once you’ve gotten the emotions written out). Then you have a way to be with your kids in a meaningful way and it only takes a few minutes.
“The Emotion Bowl I started doing at a time when there was no routine in my life. You know we’d just moved into an apartment, there was no table, it was a mess. So I didn’t feel like there were any of these anchoring points in my day, and that little bowl with the emotions in it just became this really easy go-to tradition or anchoring point that we all knew what was going to happen.
And it struck me that it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. I don’t have to have a table set and have a big dinner made with it. We could be eating take-out food sitting on the couch, but we had that little tradition that made a point of connection and gave all of us to the feeling of family. Like, here we are doing this thing together and it only takes 5 minutes, but is actually connecting us.”
I started out parenting with stars in my eyes. I believed if I just tried hard enough I could do everything right and not make any mistakes. In fact, I built it up as the one thing I could not make mistakes in. I’d do it right! and everything would be cozy! and nice! and . . . perfect! I would be the envy of my other parent friends because I would do it “right.”
And then I had my first baby.
And oh man, everything was emotions and sleeplessness. It immediately became apparent that having a kid was not going to be just how I thought it would be. I felt jumbled and fearful; I was pretty sure I was doing it wrong, certainly not perfectly. I longed to feel competent again instead of confused.
Years passed filled with ups and downs, sweetness and spit-up, and adding two more kids to our family.
I kept looking for the perfect solution to things like sleep, tantrums, eating . . . Each time I thought I had it figured out though, things would change, my kids would hit a new stage, and I’d be back to searching for another solution.
One day, I realized I was spending most of my time in survival mode, not enjoying the moment, enduring my kids rather than noticing them, and anxious the whole time that I was screwing it all up. I was worried I’d be filled with regret later if I couldn’t stop feeling so frantic and exhausted.
I needed a starting place to change how I was feeling. I didn’t want to spend their entire childhood in survival mode.
I thought about the brightest moments in my own childhood—they were often simple, like my mom teaching me to shuffle cards, or my dad teaching me to whistle with a blade of grass. I thought about the most treasured moments in our family life. Many of them were just as simple, and yet nothing like I thought they would be.
I’d pictured special times at our dining table doing crafts together. I didn’t realize some of our best memories would instead be made when we gave up on the failed craft and, to escape the house, drove down to eat lunch while watching trains.
I was focused on the end result of activities, like swimming lessons, and didn’t realize some of our most precious memories would be made on the way there, looking for prairie dogs that make their homes in the lot near the city pool.
When I thought parenting had to be perfect like the picture in my head, I hardly could enjoy the “perfectly imperfect” moments that came every day….
Field Notes: Letting Go What did you imagine parenting to look and feel like? What shocked you about the reality versus your expectations?
Do you have parenting “fantasies” or imaginings that are getting in the way of noticing the way your family really is? Would you like to let go of any of these ideas?
For more like this check out my book, Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection not Perfection. Read more here.
After getting used to the idea that we have to take care of ourselves in the most basic ways, finding unexpected opportunities for downtime is the next achievement to unlock. Again, for constant caregivers, these opportunities may show up and then quickly be dismissed due to guilt. However, I had a moment that changed how I saw these unexpected moments of rest.
Tugged in Two Directions
One day in the spring, my three kids were out back hiding plastic eggs for each other. I was in my bedroom, which faces the backyard, and I’d catch glimpses of them as they played their game. I was just folding some clothes, but I was totally content in my room, happy to have quiet for a few moments, happy that they were getting along so well and I could have peace to finish a task. Then I heard them laughing, and the peaceful feeling, instead of increasing, began to evaporate. I felt guilty that I wasn’t out there and yet tugged in two directions because I was really needing time to myself.
One of my sons came in with a huge grin on his face a few minutes later, “Mama! We’ve been playing Easter Bunny!” He breathlessly described their game to me and then, satisfied he’d updated me on the fun they were having, ran off. “OK, I have to go! It’s my turn to be the bunny next!” and with that I realized something very important.
I don’t always need to be involved for their happiness to count.
Of course, my presence is important in their lives, but I am not their only connection to the world. In this instance, my kids were building sibling bonds and making happy memories together, and doing a fine job of it without my assistance.
My children have other relationships they need to develop, other experiences, other aspects of their lives besides me, and these can be very fulfilling and enjoyable for them. It is perfectly OK for me to allow that to happen, and to enjoy the stillness every once in a while, when I have the opportunity.
It is an art to know how to set aside a task and join kids in their play, and it is also an art to relax in the moment when they are happy and you are happy and you are not together.
You need both—your connection with your children, and your ability to let go and enjoy that they can be happy, and exploring their world, without you.
Your Assignment: Allow Yourself to Observe from a Distance.
Today give yourself permission to listen from another room, or observe from a distance and enjoy your child without guilt, and without thinking that you should be involved. You’re attuned, and you will know when it’s time to step back in.
“Are you ever going to let me finish a sentence?!”
“Mom! I can do it myself!”
Why were the people I love getting mad at me? I was just trying to help, and hey, I’m not interrupting, I just thought they were done talking!
I really didn’t want to admit I was an interrupter. Then I read in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts the that the average person doesn’t go more than seventeen seconds before interrupting the person talking.
Seventeen measly seconds? Really? I certainly wasn’t that bad. . . .
I decided to find out. I started by trying out waiting seventeen seconds during conversations with my husband and my kids, counting silently to seventeen before speaking my thoughts . . . and oh dear. I was shocked at how often I was ready to interrupt during that first seven seconds, let alone seventeen seconds. I discovered that frequently when I think one of my family members is done talking, he or she is actually just taking a breath or needing time to think before answering.
Encouraged by how powerful this pause was in conversations, I began to use seventeen seconds as a waiting time when I saw one of my kids struggle. Resisting the urge to jump in to fix something or give a suggestion, I waited. How could it be that in only seventeen seconds so much could happen?
The Beauty of a Noninterruption
One day we were sitting together as my kids worked on some intricate Lego structures and one of my sons got really frustrated about a mistake.
My brain desperately wanted me to say, “Would you like some help?”
But I remembered my seventeen-seconds plan and my mouth was quiet. One. Two. Three. Four. . . .
He started to get more loud and frustrated about his task, but he kept at it.
I kept counting. Eight. Nine. Ten. . . .
My urge to rescue him was calming down as I realized my child needed this time to struggle with difficulties and to problem solve.
Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. . . .
“Mama—I think I can change this. I thought this was totally messed up, but I found a solution!”
Oh. Wow. If I had started in with a suggestion a few seconds earlier it would have robbed him of that moment!
Yup—seventeen measly seconds makes a big difference.
I am not completely “cured” of interrupting, but seventeen seconds is giving the people around me a chance to talk, and it’s giving me a chance not only to hear them but to let them show me how capable they really are—letting those strengths shine.
Your Assignment: Wait Seventeen Seconds.
When you’ve asked a question, when you’re tempted to interrupt or when you’re tempted to help, solve or fix things, wait. Give them time to check in with themselves, time to think, time to develop their own solution. This supports them where they are and shows respect and love.
It’s definitely after midnight when I hear her crying. again.
This isn’t one of those times she’ll just drift off back to sleep. It’s the third (fourth?) time she’s awoken crying. I’ve been up and down all night – just falling asleep only to be awoken again.
She’s got to be sick…I don’t feel a fever…what’s going ON!?
I sit by her bed, exhausted, foggy, trying to get her back to sleep, trying to figure out if she’s had a nightmare or if she’s about to puke in my hair. Perhaps she’s getting a cold….?
I’m so tired. I’m pleading, “Please, Z, Mama is tired and she wants to go to bed. Can you go back to sleep now? Please?”
And then The Guilt starts (It’s 1am, do you know where your guilt is?)
You know, says the voice in my head...
You should stop telling her about how tired you are – it’s teaching her to put others needs ahead of her own.
If you were doing this right you’d come up with a story right now to help her fall asleep. She would always remember how kind you were at night. You should be like that.
For that matter, you don’t read picture books to her enough. You should read to her more.
For goodness sake! She fell asleep listening to the Harry Potter with her brothers. I think maybe you’re ruining her toddlerhood. I bet she’s crying right now because she’s having terrible Harry Potter nightmares.
And look at this room they share!
You should have had them clean before bed – look at her, poor girl, she’s taking all her toys onto her bed because she has no clean tidy space.
Toddlers need order. They crave it. You might be ruining her brain with this mess.
You should get rid of more toys.
You should be telling her a story.
You should get the boys on a better schedule.
You should have made them clean up before bed.
You should have brushed her teeth, not let her do it on her own.
You should teach them better money sense.
You should make them write thank you notes more quickly.
You should eat dinner at the table every night.
You……you know what?
You’re probably ruining your kids.
Oh my goodness! I finally snap out of it.
I am squatting, uncomfortably, by my toddler at 1am.
And you know what Should Mama? I haven’t lost it! I haven’t snapped at her or used an aggravated voice or walked out in a huff to leave her alone; I might not be perfect, but I am being patient and loving and back-rubbing and I am so TIRED. Really, really danged tired.
I’m doing ok here, and I cannot keep trying to be this Should Mama that my insecurities thrust at me.
I sit in the dark rubbing my daughter’s back. Her perfect little face is finally calm again as she falls asleep, soothed from her discomfort. Safe with her mama’s touch.
Me. She needs me. She doesn’t want that other mom who always keeps a clean living room and sings like Snow White.
She doesn’t waste time comparing me to the Should Mama. She wants her mama here being patient in the dark.
She wants ME.
You know what will ruin my kids? It’s not any of those thing on the list of shoulds.
What will ruin my kids is if I let all of those “shoulds” bury the things that make me, me.
In the early hours of the morning I sit in the bedroom of my sleeping children and make a promise to myself.
My kids may not get someone who has schedules down to a science. They may not get the mama who always has fun games for clean up time. They may not get the birthday party perfect mama.
But they WILL GET ME.
And you know what?
I make really good pancakes.
I can make up a silly jingle for any situation. I know how to do an under-dog push on the swing, make a bridge when I shuffle cards, and I can start a conversation with anyone. I can uplift a friend when they are down, and make a guest feel comfortable in my home. I find the positive side of a problem and I find gratitude in distressing times.
I will not let the Should Mama take that from my kids. I will not waste all of my time comparing myself to her and let her suck the joy out of my parenting.
Oh, I’ll keep learning, I’ll keep questioning. I will look a those ‘shoulds’, but I will not be held hostage by them, because I am somebody right now and my kids need me.
Right now my kids need me.
What “should” are you struggling with right now? What parenting “should” do you have worked up in your mind as that which would make you a much better parent, a worthy and deserving parent? Is it getting in the way of enjoying the things you ARE good at in parenting? Could it even be stopping you from shining when your kids would love to see you shine?
Updated October, 2018
Our Favorite Board Games for 3, 4 and 5 year olds
The board games for preschoolers that we’ve listed here are some of our family favorites as well as the top games for preschoolers recommended by parents. The best thing is that we’ve chosen games that everyone likes to play, including parents. They’re fun, fairly quick to play and help develop dexterity, strategy and games playing skills like taking turns.
In a hurry? Take a look at these:
2018 Best Seller – Don’t Step In It! – Kinda a gross, but also the perfect giggle inducing game for preschoolers. Players have to walk through a “poop” covered field blindfolded(the game comes with poop colored playdough-like compound and a poop shaper). The winner is the one who steps in the least poop.
Perennial Favorite – Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Eye Found It– This game has a six foot long board where players look for objects on the cards each turn. You work together to try to make it to Picnic Island before Pig Will and Pig Won’t eat all the food. There are hundreds of items to find so it’s a lot of fun to explore this board game.
Playing board games with preschoolers not only strengthens your relationship connection, game play has cognitive benefits for children as well. When children play board games they learn social skills such as communicating verbally and sharing, the game play can motivate them to increase focus and to practice patience while they wait their turn. Preschoolers love the chance to work on mastering letter and number recognition and counting, hand eye coordination and color recognition.
Along with these benefits, playing games together gives children a comforting space to learn how to play within the rules and boundaries of the game. At 4 years old, much of life is hard to predict and not within your control – board games give a sense of empowerment as prechoolers begin understanding how the game works.
Choosing Board Games for 4 Year Olds
Preschoolers are beginning to have more and more fine motor skills, their imaginations are blossoming and they really begin to understand how to play with others. This makes the preschool stage and ideal time for board games. When shopping for board games for your 4 year old, look for games that play to their strengths such as imagination or big movements like hopping; or help them build up new skills such as color, letter or number recognition, fine motor skills like pinching and picking up small objects, or social skills like taking turns.
Favorite Board Games for Preschoolers
Many of these are board games that have stood the test of time in our family through multiple kids, and some of them continue to be favorites even as the kids get older. Preschoolers all the way up to teens and grown ups can enjoy playing them – most don’t take long, making them the perfect quick connection activity. This list contains Amazon affiliate links.
New this year, this game is now a favorite game in our family for connecting with younger kids. The game play is cooperative. You take turns spinning to see what you’ll have to do in order to be able to put a cupcake on Pete’s Birthday table. Actions you might have to perform include singing a line from a song, naming a favorite food, naming a object that starts with a certain letter sound or charades (simple enough for preschoolers and they include pictures so it’s fine for non-readers.) This is a quick game to play and enjoyable for parents and kids.
This game builds anticipation as the players bit by bit add water to the dog they’re washing. Eventually the soggy doggy gets too wet shakes off (of course!). You can find a video of this if you scroll down below the product listing here.
This is one of the most popular games ever from Peaceable Kingdom Games. The goal is for the group to cooperate to get the owls back in the nest before the sun rises. On their turn players must play a sun if they have one (making the sun rise further) otherwise they play one of their color cards (like Candyland). The color lets you move an owl closer to the next. You can play with a different number of owls (up to 6) to make it easier or harder. The game has enough strategy to be fun, and kids get to learn how to work together too.
Another parent recently said to me, “You pretty much can’t go wrong with any Peaceable Kingdom games.” and that’s been our experience as well. We also have Seeds for the Birds and Peaceable Kingdom’s Race to the Treasure. We like Race to the Treasure better than Seeds for the Birds because making the pathway involves many choices and possibility for how the game will unfold – it feels a bit more strategic.
This is a well made game by Ravensburger that reinforces colors and shapes. It will appeal most to younger preschoolers – I almost put it on our Toddler Games List, but it probably most suits 3 and 4 year olds. With multiple different ways to play, you can use this game for quite a while.
Game play time is about 20 minutes as players roll to find the color and shape, then match a place for it on the board, or take a piece off the board, depending on the rules you’re playing the game with.
This is a game that was recommended to me by a grandmother of preschoolers. Her grandkids love the silly foam fish that comes with the game. One the the challenges when choosing board games for 3 year olds and the younger preschool crowd, is that they still have a hard time sitting still. No worries with the Cat in the Hat “I Can Do That!” game. This game involves lots of physical action – perfect for younger kids.
Players flip over a selection of three cards which will direct them in performing a challenge. For non-readers, pictures help give clues as to what they cards say promoting early reading skills. With activities that involve things like ‘dancing with the foam fish between your knees’, the combinations can be pretty hilarious.
Charades is great for laughs, and this kids version comes with a picture on each card making it possible for pre-readers to play. Non – readers can act out the picture on the card, while players who can read have three different words as option on the cards. This board game taps into 4 year olds’ imaginations and gives them the chance to be active during game play. It’s also just really funny.
As preschoolers get excited about learning their letters, this ABC version of the ever popular game Spot It is a hit. I mention Spot It in our Favorite Card Games for Kids because there are multiple ways to play and the games go pretty quickly.
Each card will have at least one match to every other card. A couple games versions to play include one in which three cards are flipped over out and whoever spots a match first gets to grab them, or having each player flip over a card from their deck and giving away cards to whoever spots a match first (kind of like War where you’re trying to get all the cards first). Great practice for kids learning their letters.
I love finding strategy games that adults can play with kids; that’s how Sequence for Kids is. Kids as young as 3 can learn to play, and you play with multiple ages. To play you put down a card from your hand and place a chip on a corresponding game board space. When you have 4 in a row, it’s a “sequence” and you win. The twist comes in with unicorns and dragons – a unicorn card can be used to place your chip anywhere or a dragon card can be used to remove your opponent’s chip. This little bit of strategy makes this game interesting for preschoolers and grown ups alike.
You might be surprised to find a “regular” grown up game listed among the best games for 4 year olds, but this is a very colorful card game that requires no reading and it works for preschoolers! It’s played a little bit like dominoes…kind of. You’re trying to get seven of the same pattern together while blocking other people from getting their grouping together. Younger preschoolers may not quite get the point of what they’re doing, but they can still play. This game takes space to spread out, but it’s good for the whole family.
We owned this cooperative game when I was a child and my brothers and sister and I loved the beautiful wooden fruit pieces. This is game is easy to play with younger players, and may be a good choice for families with a toddler and preschooler.
Players are trying to pick all the fruit from the trees before ravens steal them. The fruits are pears, apples, cherries and plums and the game comes with adorable little baskets for collecting the wooden fruits. Children who love miniatures and pretend play will love this game.
As a fan of the regular version of Carcossonne, I was intrigued to see this game. We do not own it, but reviews are positive. Parents say that it’s a fabulous game because it’s simple enough younger players to play, but has enough choice and challenge that it’s not completely boring for adults. The ideal age range for this game is probably 4-8, but it really works well for a larger range than that.
I know they’re not exactly a board game, but when I looked into our game cupboard I saw the floor puzzle all of my kids have enjoyed and had to list this as an idea. Floor puzzles can work well with preschoolers because they take what could be a sitting-activity and give it a bit more motion – you can crawl around on the floor to put together the puzzle.
A friend in the UK recommends these games by Orchard Toys as some of the first games her preschoolers have really loved. Shopping List is a fun memory game, and Dotty Dinosaur involves color and shape recognition.
Your turn! What are your favorite board games for 3 year olds through 5 year olds? Leave ideas in the comments!
More Board Games for 4 Year Olds
Kids in the 4 to 6 year old age range are getting old enough to sit down for a board game, but they still love to be active, so games with a shorter time for play work well. Especially when that 4, 5 or 6 year old starts heading to longer days at preschool or kindergarten, I love to have a little selection of favorite games so that it’s easy to pull out something you’ll both enjoy playing and you can reconnect when you’ve had time apart. Here are a few more posts with games that work for this age range:
More than saying an automatic ‘thank you’, gratitude is a character strength that supports our most positive life experiences and it’s much more than good manners. When I looked at how to teach gratitude to a child, beyond the basics of sending a thank you note, I learned that researchers at the Greater Good Institute have found that gratitude consists of four different parts. Nurturing all four parts will help our kids more deeply experience and benefit from gratitude in their lives.
This post includes Amazon affiliate links. Bounceback Parenting will receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you if you wind up purchasing something through one of these links.
How Does Gratitude Benefit Kids?
Making Grateful Kids describes gratitude as part of a positive social cycle. It goes something like this: a child receives something positive (a gift, for instance). The child feels gratitude for the gift. Gratefulness makes them feel generous toward others and they are more likely to give back. They receive gratitude for their generosity and feel they can make a positive impact on the world. Their confidence increases and their willingness to work hard increases as they feel supported by and included in their community because of the gratitude they’ve experienced.
One of the times when kids are most likely to feel gratitude is when they’ve worked toward a self chosen goal. When they achieve this goal they’ve worked hard for:
They’re likely to feel gratitude to the people who helped them achieve this goal.
Feeling grateful makes them more likely to want to be generous to others (so that others can have this happy, grateful feeling as well).
The feeling of gratitude also increases their self discipline as they decide they would like to experience this feeling again by achieving more of their goals.
And as they feel gratitude for others, they get better at recognizing the supporters in their community, allowing them to build stronger relationships with people likely to be able to help them again in the future
Gratefulness helps kids have more self control, generosity, self worth and happiness.
What does it mean to be more grateful?
People who are more grateful experience gratitude more frequently, intensely and deeply (they feel gratitude for a wider variety of things and are able to notice a more benefits from their experiences which they’re grateful). When people have more gratitude, it allows them to experience happiness from positive events for a longer period of time.
Some people seem primed from the start to be more grateful than others, however with a growth mindset everyone can increase their experiences of gratitude. A growth mindset says that our skills are not set in stone, and we can improve them through effort. To make that effort in your family first you have to make a choice to make gratitude a priority. Then work on supporting the four parts of gratitude.
Four Parts of Gratitude:
We know the teaching kids gratitude is about more than just good manners, but what does that mean? Researchers have discovered that gratitude actually consists of four parts. As parents it’s helpful to know about all four of these parts of so we can encourage gratitude in our children that’s more than an an automatic please and thank you.
What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
How we THINK about why we have been given those things
How we FEEL about the things we have been given
What we DO to express appreciation in turn
Younger children experience gratitude more simply than older kids. As they get older and their cognitive skills develop they’re more likely to engage with all four parts.
So while a toddler may simply be excited when his aunt brings cookies, an older child might realize how thoughtful it was that his aunt remembered his favorite kind of cookie, and can understand that she brought him cookies to express her love. His gratitude is thereby deepened as he can understand more about it. The toddler might say thank you out of prompting or habit. The older child may say thank you out of truly feeling that gratitude.
Here are some simple ways to teach gratitude to a child for each of the four parts:
Notice: get in the habit of noticing happy or beautiful moments. State these out loud.
Think: ask questions when your child receives a gift such as, “Why do you think you received this gift?” “Did this person have to give it to you?”
Feel: start conversation about how gratitude feels. “Where do you feel gratitude in your body?” “Do you think you can spot it when someone else feels grateful?”
Do: Encourage actions such as writing thank you cards, saying thank you and volunteering to help others.
The nice part is that you can start very simply. Noticing is a powerful first step in gratitude, and just by introducing more conversations about gratitude you’ll increase the noticing in your family. Our gratitude prompts are a fantastic way to start these conversations.
Problem solving as a parent sometimes fills me with confusion and overwhelm. I find myself seeing all of things going wrong and despairing at figuring anything out.
One of the things I’ve always had difficulty with is asking for help. Not because I don’t want it, but because I get confused and overwhelmed when I try to figure out what kind of help to ask for. Sometimes this means I wind up asking the wrong questions, or simply asking too broadly and not really getting the support I need. If this sounds like you, I hope the following will be useful.
Asking specific questions
I have a dear friend who is a design engineer. As he says, problem solving is his jam. I asked him once how he gets help as he works through complex problems. His answer is simple, but has given me guidance for asking better question in order to get better help:
“In order to solve a generic problem, you have to be able to define what the actual problem is. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, how can you work towards it?
Now this definition doesn’t have to be complete to start. You can iterate it as you figure things out.
As you find out more and more requirements you can get better answers from experts, because you are asking a specific question instead of a broad one.”
There is a lot we can take from this short statement when faced with a parenting dilemma.
1. You have to be able to define what the actual problem is.
Often we have a knee jerk reaction when a difficult situation arises in our family. We can wind up only looking at the symptoms instead of digging deeper into what’s causing them. For instance, last winter my son’s behavior was terrible at home. It seemed like he was angry every day after school.
The anger was really frustrating, but was actually only a symptom. It was covering his other emotions. After a lot of reflection and discussion my husband and I realized, it’s not that he’s angry. The problem is that he’s very unhappy and he’s expressing this through anger. Not only did this give us compassion, it helped us reframe the problem and ask better questions about what was going on in his days.
2. The definition of the problem doesn’t have to be complete to start.
This is critical. As we put effort into solving any issue we learn things we didn’t know before. This is an important reminder that sometimes problem solving is messy. If you already knew the answer you wouldn’t be looking for help to begin with. This means instead of bashing yourself for going down a dead-end trail, you can see it as part of the process. [Related: Build Yourself up – 10 phrases to get rid of negative self talk]
At first we thought my son’s angry behavior was because of having a hard time getting up early for school in the morning and not eating all of his lunch. It took working on these issues for a while for us to realize there was something more going on. As we dug deeper we realized that the actual problem we were working on had more to do with him feeling disconnected from us and from his teacher.
Our problem had gone through an evolution. It started out: he’s angry every day after school. Then became: he’s angry because he’s unhappy. And finally we reached the root of it: he’s angry because he’s unhappy and he’s unhappy because he’s not getting time to connect with us or with his teacher due to the larger class size and our busy schedules.
3. As you find out more and more requirements you can get better answers from experts, because you are asking a specific question instead of a broad one.
When it comes to solving problems in your family, consulting with ‘experts’ could mean:
reading books or blogs
asking your partner for help
talking with a wise friend
talking to your child’s teacher
asking a therapist for help
No matter what expert you go to, you’ll get better help if you have more specifically defined problems to work on. Some people are great at helping you do this refining. I have a friend who I can just blurt out everything to and get to the root of things, it’s wonderful. But that getting to the root of things is necessary so you can really get good help.
Next – when you’re seeking help: What are the requirements for solving your problem? For instance, we had to look at my son’s anger and ask ourselves: are we willing to pull him from this school? No? Then we need to find a solution that fits with him still going to this school.
“Requirements” when it comes to parenting might also take the shape of finding solutions that fit within your values. In our family we would not be willing to try to solve the problem of a child’s anger by using punishment. That wouldn’t fit with our parenting values.
As we continued looking at what was going on with our son we were finally able to define the problem as: We need to add more connection into our son’s day. This is far more specific than: My son is angry all the time.
Once we had this more specific problem to work on we could ask for help from the school. (A simple seating change gave him more access to the aide in the class.) At home we were able to enact solutions that really fit what was going on. (Making sure we sat down to dinner as a family regularly again, and looking for more little connection opportunities during the day made a big difference.) Had we wanted to seek help from another expert, for instance talking to a counselor, we would have been able to give more specific information about the problem.
To Recap – How to Get Better Help When Problem Solving:
Define the problem you are trying to solve.
You do not have to solve everything at once. I repeat, you do not have to solve everything at one. Keep refining your problem until you get down to something specific – remember you can come back and work on those other worries later. Solving just one thing will be more approachable and will at least shift the situation, possibly eliminating the other problems altogether.
Get more and more specific in order to get the best answers when you’re asking for help.