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Kristen Bell & Dax Shepard Share the Best Parenting Hack for Raising Happy Kids in 2020

Today in parenting tricks Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard do that we immediately want to copy: The couple shared this week that they have a gratitude practice with their daughters. It’s the simplest idea, something many of you may already be doing for yourselves, but in this tumultuous year, we needed a reminder of just how much it might really help the wellbeing of the whole family.

“Dax has suggested a couple times, ‘Let’s just name three things we’re grateful for,'” Bell said when she and Shepard appeared at the Advertising Week 2020 virtual summit on Thursday, according to E! Online. “I am shocked at how into that our girls have gotten. … We’re in the bed sometimes at night, they will say, ‘Does anyone want to talk about what they’re grateful for?’ And immediately [my] mom heart goes crazy, and I’m like, ‘Sure, if you do,’ trying to act cool.”

The idea to do this with Delta (7) and Lincoln (5) came from quite the juxtaposition of sources, the 12-step program that Shepard turns to for his addiction issues and the girls’ school.

“We’ve been trying to move it up to the morning, as it’s been recommended to me by, well, the 12-step program is very into that,” Shepard explained. “As soon as you start the day, there’s the three blessings, there’s a lot of different traditions that incorporate a morning gratitude list. … It has a huge impact on me and it seems to work for the kids as well.”

Other proponents of gratitude practices suggest doing this at the end of each day.

At the girls’ school, Bell said that every Friday, “They get to talk about their rose, their favorite thing of the week or the day. [And] their thorn, which is, as a child, it could be something that you didn’t like, but as you grow, it should be something you could have improved upon.”

This isn’t just hippie-dippy Hollywood stuff they’re doing. Scientific research has backed up the value of practicing gratitude for both adults and children.

In many studies of adults, those who were asked to do things such as write down positive things in their lives on a daily basis experienced less depression and anxiety, and more feelings of satisfaction with their life. Other studies show that even preschool-age children can understand the concept of gratitude and that those who do express it are generally happier.  Preteens and teens have also been shown to respond to gratitude practices well.

At a time when adults and children have quite a few reasons to feel depressed and anxious, this is one very simple, proven way to boost everyone’s mood. And all you have to do is ask everyone in your family to list three things you’re grateful for, every day. As humans, we are wired to see the negative first, probably to ensure our survival. But since we’re not usually running from tigers in the jungle these days, we can afford to refocus our attention to the positive. Our very flexible brains can begin to do this more easily and automatically with just a little practice.

If you want a little help keeping up with a gratitude practice, here are a couple of resources:

The Greater Good Science Center has articles explaining the science behind gratitude, as well as a student journal prompt to get you started. Greater Good also published the book Making Grateful Kids.

Younger children can appreciate the lessons of Grateful Ninja, who goes through a five-day gratitude challenge to understand the true sources of happiness.

And if your children are ready to do this on their own, you can use the 3-Minute Gratitude Journal for Kids, which has a very inviting layout that makes journaling easy and fun, rather than a chore.

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