• Behavior
  • Parenting

Focus on the little things to nurture gratitude, happiness

Young sisters hugging.
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. How can I help my child develop gratitude?
2. How do little joys improve mental health?
3. How can mindfulness or meditation help?

Children and teens who are more appreciative of life’s gifts that can’t be bought — such as friendship, health and safety — are happier people, according to a study in the Journal of School Psychology. 

Parents can foster stronger mental health by encouraging their children to be grateful, humble and more aware of intangible joys.


Focusing on the little things is a great way to develop gratitude in your child, says Joan Kieffer, director of Center for Child Counseling’s school-based mental health program in West Palm Beach.

“Children should be encouraged to express enjoyment in experiences rather than simply in things like toys,” she says. “You can help them by modeling behaviors and phrases. You can say, ‘Aren’t we so lucky to feel the warm sun today?’ or ‘We should be thankful that we get to color together; these are really special times for me.’ ”

Community service is another great way to emphasize how much they have. If possible, bring your children when you volunteer or donate items to a charity and explain why you’re doing this. Children who are taught service as a core value prove to be more grateful and fulfilled as adults, Kieffer says.


Finding joy in small things returns us to our natural state of joy and happiness, says Pablo del Real, director of mindfulness education, The Way in Delray Beach.

“Joy is knowing that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. Happiness is being in touch with and experiencing one or more conditions necessary for happiness, such as health, sustenance, friendship, work, school and more,” he says. “Remember the last time you had a toothache? It was awful! Today, if you don’t have a toothache, that is a condition for joy and happiness. When we don’t find joy in little things, we might not be able to find joy in anything.”


It’s easier to be aware of those little joys when you’re mindful of the present. Many techniques can help center children and control their emotional responses, especially those struggling with fear, anger and anxiety, Kieffer says.

“Breathing is No. 1,” she says. “All children should be encouraged to slow down and concentrate on their breathing. Counting in for five, then out for five can help young children follow along.”

For another mindfulness exercise short enough even for young children, use these cues: Close your eyes and imagine holding an orange. Breathe slowly in and out and feel its skin. What does it feel like? How does it smell? Slowly peel it and look at each piece while tossing it away. Look at each segment. Don’t rush or think about the past or the future. Be in the moment. Slowly pull the segments apart.

“This exercise brings the intense focus of the mind onto one small object that is manageable for the child to explore,” Kieffer says. “It pulls the mind inward, away from any external stimulation.”

Del Real recommends the book, “Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children” and “Mindfulness and Meditation in Nature,” a monthly event at Delray Beach Children’s Garden. 

“A wonderful way to help your child generate the energy of mindfulness is to practice with other children and adults,” he says. 


• Joan Kieffer, director, Center for Child Counseling’s school-based mental health program
• Pablo del Real, director of mindfulness education, The Way   

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