Parents everywhere long for their children to be healthy, to be happy and create connected, loving relationships together.
Parents strive to provide the best experiences and opportunities to lead to these outcomes. The pressure to help children thrive along with all the pressures of parenthood can lead to significant stress. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, nearly half of parents surveyed say their stress levels are completely overwhelming on most days. Research has also shown that a direct antidote to stress is gratitude.
But what if, our practice of gratitude is beneficial to those near to us as well? Researchers Katherine Nelson-Coffey and John Coffey recently explored this question and the results are encouraging. When gratitude is practiced by parents, their relationships with their children are positively impacted.
In the first study, researchers explored how much parents felt gratitude, along with their happiness, positive emotions, empathic emotions and negative emotions. Parents were also asked about how satisfied they were with their lives and how close they felt to their children on a daily basis, along with a time each day when they provided care – whether easy or hard – to their child. What the research found is that on days the parents felt more gratitude than usual, they also experienced more positive emotions, were more satisfied with their life, and felt “greater closeness and less conflict with their children…regardless of how challenging it was for them to care for their children” that day.
In a second study involving over 600 parents, researchers assigned groups to write (1) a general gratitude letter to someone, (2) a gratitude letter about someone how made them feel accepted, valued or safe and (3) a letter about their activities from the past week. Immediately after writing the letter, parents were surveyed on the same questions as above (emotions, life satisfaction, closeness with their children). Parents in the groups assigned to write letters of gratitude experienced, to no surprise, reported more positive emotions, more life satisfaction and closer relationship with their children. Additionally, participants had a higher satisfaction with their parenting and fewer challenging child behaviors.
According to Nelson-Coffey and Coffey, this research demonstrates that “parents can improve their well-being, relationships with their children, and family functioning, not necessarily by engaging in more intense parenting practices or increasing engagement with their children, but by practicing simple positive activities – namely, gratitude.”
Can you find time to practice gratitude? Not only will you personally feel the host of positive benefits including lower blood pressure, better sleep, stronger immune systems, less anxiety and depression and more happiness and life satisfaction, gratitude will foster a relationship with your children that will help them be healthy, happy and connected.