“Time for an attitude check?” was a question my own children heard with some regularity in their tween and teen years. It always came at the end of an upturned nose, rolled eyes, or ungrateful comment.
From the classic Ebenezer Scrooge to Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino, the journey from grumpy to grateful is perpetual in our culture. Even the grumpy dump truck can learn to be nice in spite of all the heavy hauling he has to do in the children’s book The Grumpy Dump Truck by Brie Spangler.
Experiencing and expressing gratitude is such an important skill that the University of California, Berkeley, in collaboration with nearby UC Davis, has committed a significant amount of research dollars to study the power of gratitude (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude/rfp/).
Tweens and teens seem to have it all and are often perceived as being ungrateful. So, how do we raise their gratitude quotient? While we don’t have the power to make an adolescent grateful, we can provide the example and environment that gives them the opportunity to learn to be grateful. Just the other day, I read an article by Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. that outlined five ways to provide opportunities to learn to be grateful (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moment-youth/201212/the-transformative-power-gratitude). Reading that article made me pause to reflect on what it is that Fit for Girls does to help increase a girl’s gratitude quotient. Here is Dr. Price-Mitchell’s list with a description of the philosophy and practice of Fit for Girls:
- Foster imagination – This is one of the premises that Fit for Girls is built on. When the girls arrive to that first workout, they are sure they will never finish a 5k. We immediately begin helping them imagine themselves crossing that finish line, seeing themselves as the strong girls they are.
- Look at a child with new eyes – People have always thought it peculiar that I love to work with middle school students. In turn, I have always thought it peculiar that they didn’t share that love. One of the most constant refrains I hear from the middle schoolers I have worked with is that they are not seen as capable by adults. Middle schoolers are at that wonderful transition stage, old enough to have a meaningful discussion with you and yet young enough not to take themselves too seriously to have fun, act goofy and laugh. At Fit for Girls, all of the coaches and Sole Sisters are selected for their ability to appreciate each girl for who she is at this moment but also to see all that she has the potential to become.
- Cultivate gratefulness – Throughout the season, we provide the girls with the opportunity to express their gratitude. In fact, we structure it into our workouts and curricula. Girls are encouraged to cheer for their teammates, to share with each other things they appreciate, and to articulate what having a Sole Sister means to them. Providing opportunities for a girl to say what she is grateful for helps her become more comfortable with doing it on her own.
- Listen – With our busy, chaotic lives it is easy to forget to listen to our tweens and teens. We may even fool ourselves into thinking we are listening as we drive from soccer to swimming to the grocery store, all the while muttering “uh-huh” while trying to work out in our minds how in the world we are ever going to get it all done. The one developmental characteristic of an adolescent is that she has laser focus for genuine interest. In a heartbeat, she will be able to discern whether or not an adult truly cares or is just going through the motions. Dr. Price-Mitchell writes, “Show them by your presence that you care what they think and feel on the inside, not just what they do on the outside.” Throughout the season, our wonderfully committed Sole Sisters will come spend time at a workout with the girls. Without fail, every time a Sole Sister shows up, the girls smile with pride and feel so valued because another woman would take time out of her day to come spend time with them.
- Allow yourself to be a receiver – One of the greatest things we can do is to look for the ways that we appreciate the tweens and teens in our lives. However, it’s not just enough to notice the things we are grateful for, it’s equally important to express them. We must allow ourselves to accept and acknowledge an expression of gratitude from this special group of people. You may have to dive deep in to what is said to find the expression of gratitude, but, trust me, it’s there.
Please share the ways in which you help increase your own gratitude quotient or that of your middle school girl, or the middle school girls you work with. I’d love to hear about it!