I laughed. "Attitude of gratitude" was what my mom used to
chime at all eight of us kids when we'd whine for McDonald's, Tamagotchis or the
new Amy Grant album.
And in my own way, I say it to my kids. "Let's not focus on
what we don't have," I tell my 4-year-old. "Instead, let's think about what we
Once, after I told her this, she crossed her arms and
pouted. "All I have is nothing and a mean, cranky little brother."
Telling someone who is sad or frustrated to just be grateful is good but meaningless advice.
Telling someone who is sad or frustrated to just be grateful
is good but meaningless advice. But it happens often. I've had people tell me
that I should be grateful that a family member, who almost lost her life in a
car accident and has had a long recovery, was alive. I've heard people
tell grieving parents to just be grateful for their other kids who are alive.
Recently, as I complained that my 2-year-old is struggling to eat at meals,
my neighbor told me to just be happy I had food to give him. "That will give
you perspective," she said.
But it actually doesn't and it forces a false binary on our
lives. I can both be grateful for the food on my
table and frustrated that my son doesn't eat it. Gratitude is a red herring.
To be sure, focusing on gratitude does have its benefits. Study
after study has shown that keeping a daily list of the things you are grateful
for has benefits that stretch beyond emotional well-being and happiness, though those two things alone would be enough.
But gratitude when it is used as a cudgel to squelch
perfectly natural emotions of longing, anger, fear and frustration doesn't help
When parents focus on positivity they ignore their children's negative emotions
A recent study done by Scott P. Mirabile, PhD, assistant
professor of psychology at St. Mary's College of Maryland, found that when
parents focus on positivity they ignore their children's negative emotions and
this could have some, well, negative consequences. The study published recently
in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology calls ignoring negative
emotions an unsupportive emotional strategy. They note: "the finding that parents' ignoring
correlates positively with children's emotional liability, anger and
aggression suggests that parental ignoring is not only a response to children's
poor emotional behavior, but also may be a cause of it."
When you have children prone to bouts of anguish over the fact that they can't bring rocks into the house, walking the line of validating emotion and also not giving
into it can be tricky. After reading the study, instead of
pushing my kids to focus on gratitude only when they are feeling upset, I've
tried to preempt it; I ask them every morning for one thing they are thankful for.
For my 2-year-old it's always baseball. Every day. But 4-year-old is into it. I've found that asking this question outside of
negative behavior and emotions elicits more positive responses than "All I have
is nothing and a mean, cranky little brother." Yesterday, she was actually
grateful for her "sweet, little brother and whole family."
None of this is perfect, but nothing ever is—and for that I