Teaching Our Kids Gratitude: A Simple Way to Keep a Family Journal
By Mattie Barron
Journaling is a great way to document your life. When I younger and playing at a friend’s house, I remember her mother gathering the whole family, including me, to discuss our days with one another. She brought out a notebook and asked each one of us the sweet, sour, and spiritual parts of our day. She wrote our responses in the notebook.
I LOVED this! I was blown away at how simple, yet substantial, this type of journaling was. It allowed us to reflect and capture just about all that occurred in our day. In that moment, I realized journaling doesn’t have to be pages of in-depth entries. It can be three simple lines that highlight our day.
That day, I began documenting the sweet, sour, and spiritual parts of my day in my own journal. In recent years, I have added service and silly moments of my day as well. I now like to call it “The 5S Journal” (sweet, sour, spiritual, service, and silly). Instead of documenting life on a phone, writing it down, makes it more valuable and easily accessible to look back on and remember moments that occurred in your life.
Expressing gratitude through a journal benefits families and children because “grateful people [have] less depression and anxiety and greater family quality of life” (Stoeckel and Weissbrod, 2015). Also, as you keep a gratitude journal, you will “report greater life satisfaction and positive affect” in your life (Stoeckel and Weissbrod, 2015).
It’s a reciprocal process. As you open your eyes to the 5 S’s, the more visible they will become. And as you and your kids express gratitude, the more grateful each of you will become. As we keep a gratitude journal in our families, our children will begin to understand the significant impact gratitude has on our lives.
How to Teach the 5 S’s of Gratitude to Our Kids:
Sweet – The sweet times are the easiest to recall. As we reflect on the sweet times, we are unconsciously already expressing our gratitude. Teach your kids how to reflect on the sweet times. With younger kids, you can ask them “What made you happy today?” For older kids, you can ask them “What was the best part of your day?” These questions will help guide the discussion of the sweet times.
Sour – As we state and reflect on our tough times, we became even more grateful for the sweet times. Also, sour moments often will represent an overall larger trial we may be facing. Showing gratitude during the tougher times will enhance our attitude and coping during those times. Documenting the sour times and looking back on them after the trial has passed also can help teach children the perspective that trials are preparing and shaping us in a way that leads us to an undeniably better path. You can ask younger children, “What didn’t you like about your day?” and older children, “What was the worst part of your day?”
Spiritual – This is unique to your own personal belief system. You can ask your children, “How do you feel today?” or “How do you feel toward your inner self?” or “What characteristics and values of yours are you grateful for today?”
Service – Whether you did an act of service or were the recipient of service, each opportunity and/or act is a chance to practice gratitude. Acknowledging your children’s good deeds will help your children recognize service is necessary and one of life’s great opportunities.
During the holiday season, we often see individuals standing in front of grocery stores ringing a bell and asking for donations. When I was a child and went grocery shopping with my mother, she never hesitated to give a few dollars. Because of her example, I grew up donating as well. A simple, positive role model in service will motivate your children to participate in service activities themselves. Help them reflect on their feelings associated with service by asking, “How did this opportunity to give make you feel?”
Silly – I’ve recently added this due to the fact that my family makes humor a priority. We love to laugh and make each other laugh. Laughter should be just as appreciated as the other S’s. Teach your children the value of uplifting laughter. To help them recognize its significance, ask them, “How did laughing as a family make you feel? Do you feel closer together?”
This journal is an overall great way to for families to express their gratitude while also reflecting on their day. It’s a win-win.
How to Make the 5S Journal a Priority:
- Buy a journal for the whole family to share. If possible take your kids on this outing and have them help pick it out. If your kids are older, they may wish to have their own journal in which to record events.
- Print out a few family pictures and ask each child to help personalize/decorate the journal.
- Set a specific time every night that is designated to reflecting on each family members’ day. Consider setting an alarm to remind you.
- Place the journal where it is visible to all family members.
- Be as mindful as possible throughout your day. Knowing you’re going to be talking about specific parts of your day will help you better look for and retain the moments you desire to share. But don’t beat yourself up on those days that fly by without being able to recall anything super significant.
- Have Mom or Dad write what each member says This way every member is voicing their day rather than passing the journal to just have everyone write in it.
- Keep it simple. Each daily entry might be only 1-3 lines per family member or maybe even five words.
- As years pass, take time to look back in your family journal and reflect with your family on the great and not-so-great moments that have made your family unique and special.
The 5S journal was an answer to me on how to keep track of my grateful heart. Implementing this journal into your family life can help you teach your kids to appreciate all events that occur in their lives rather than simply being grateful for only the sweeter moments. Looking for more ways to teach your kids gratitude, community, empathy, and more? Check out our book, 30 Days to a Stronger Child. Featuring great discussions and activities, you can find it here.
Mattie Barron is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science in Marriage and Family Studies. She is from Tri-cities, WA and has a passion to help create and ignite strong families. She hopes to work in the school system and aid in the support of children and families.
Stoeckel, M., Weissbrod, C., & Ahrens, A. (2015). The Adolescent Response to Parental Illness: The Influene of Dispositional Gratitude. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 24(5), 1501-1509.