How Gratitude Builds Emotional Intelligence in Neurodiverse Children & Teens

A positive frame of mind can be cultivated and one of the best ways to do so is to have a gratitude practice.

What does this mean?  Basically it involves thinking about and possibly expressing what and who we appreciate and are thankful for. It helps us recognize and focus on the positive thoughts, the silver linings, and the wins in our lives verses the negatives or things that bring us down.

A gratitude practice can be part of a mindfulness practice, bringing awareness to the taste of yummy food, the smell of a beautiful flower or the feeling of holding a loved one (including hugging your pet-one of my favorites!)

These thoughts and feelings activate several parts of the brain associated with emotional intelligence and well-being. Studies indicate that this is because focusing on the things that we are grateful for requires us to be emotionally aware (mindful) and practice focusing on the positive aspects of our daily life.

Scientifically, gratitude acts as a catalyst for neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help us feel happy from the inside out.

Gratitude can help boost our emotional resilience, supporting the ability to adapt to and overcome stressful events, something that is crucial for all children, but especially neurodiverse children.  Often, neurodivergent people have differences in their neurotransmitters and can benefit from practices that bring more positivity and combat stress and overwhelm. 

As we practice gratitude, we strengthen these neural pathways to create a positive nature within, allowing us to notice the many gifts in our lives, including the people and experiences we have.

As parents and caregivers, we can model this behavior and way of being by talking about the things we are grateful for at the dinner table, at bedtime, first thing in the morning or sprinkled throughout the day in conversations.  

We can also have rituals with our children such as writing in a journal or keeping a gratitude jar where each family member contributes daily and then reads together once a week. I actually have a section of my daily to-do list that prompts me to list three things I'm grateful for daily (and yes, I sometimes forget to share that list with my teen boys…we are all a work in progress:).  But consciously practicing gratitude everyday is something that fills me up and reminds me of the good things around me.

For those of you who like data and research, having a gratitude practice has actually been studied and found to improve relationships, physical health, self-esteem, These are all a huge part of emotional intelligence and regulation.

When we create simple routines and daily practices that strengthen our ability to see the good stuff, it can be a win-win for us, our kids, and even start to have a ripple effect on the people and community around us.

I'll start right now by letting you know how grateful I am for YOU!  The fact that you are taking the time to read this and be a part of the Make Social Learning Stick community really means a lot to me.  Thank you, I am truly grateful!

For some ideas on adding gratitude into your daily routine, we collaborated with Generation Mindful on their recent blog post, Gratitude Nurtures Emotional Resilience. Start Here.

Together we are following my theme based 12 month Make It Simple, Make It Stick calendar with daily activities that you can use in your home. This month, we’re focused on gratitude!

Do you need more resources? Check out this blog I wrote about Gratitude with a Tween Twist.

Check out how you can sprinkle in daily activities to help your child develop the important skills related to building a growth mindset such as being flexible, seeing multiple options, problem solving and shining a light on their strengths!

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