Tis the season for giving, receiving and developing leadership skills.
Yes, you read that correctly. Giving and receiving help build leadership skills in children. Let me give you some examples of how you can help build leadership during the holiday season and continue throughout the year.
When I was a school-aged child, a long time ago, adults would say things like: “Be a leader, not a follower.” To be honest, I had no idea what that meant. As a parent and educator, I try to do a better job explaining leadership skills and develop age-appropriate tasks to accomplish these goals. But what exactly are leadership skills?
A simple internet search will lead you to terms like patience, empathy, active listening, reliability, dependability, creativity, positivity, effective feedback, timely communication, team building, flexibility, risk-taking and ability to teach and mentor. But gratitude is not listed. How can that be?
During the holiday season, adults will encourage children to say “thank you” every time they receive a gift or a positive gesture. The research on gratitude is just catching up to what parents already knew: Gratitude matters!
Thought leaders, including Brene Brown and Jon Gordon, focus on gratitude as a personal trait that leadership skills are built on when they teach leadership courses. Business sources are now listing ways for CEOs and other business professionals to increase their gratefulness in journals and workshops. Why the increase in gratitude skills?
Gratitude has physical, psychological and social benefits. Physically, gratitude is associated with building a stronger immune system, more restful sleep and lowering blood pressure. Optimism, joy and overall happiness are the psychological benefits of gratitude. Socially, people who are grateful are generous and compassionate, more forgiving and less lonely.
Good leaders need the physical, psychological and social benefits to enhance their overall health. Leaders want to have the energy and focus they need to develop a project and follow through with all the steps to completion. Leaders need patience and empathy when working with their team. Gratitude is a way to cultivate these character traits. These are also key traits that help battle depression.
This year has been particularly difficult for children (and adults) with shutdowns, virtual schooling, cancellation of regular activities, health concerns, etc. It may seem like a hard time to work on developing gratitude skills, but maybe it is really the best time to begin. Here are some ways to start:
• Schedule a few minutes each day to reflect on one thing that happened that you are grateful for. By choosing just one thing, you automatically think of all the good things that happened during the day. All the positive experiences come up when trying to think of just one!
• Teens — and adults — who like to use their cell phones or tablets can download gratitude apps. These apps help the user to keep an electronic gratitude journal. Some even have space for pictures.
• Send a thank-you note, a good old-fashioned pen and paper note to acknowledge someone who made you feel good. It does not need to be because you received a tangible gift. The best notes for are gifts that are intangible: help with a project, good advice, a great conversation. Good notes are specific and personal. Use a basic script: Thank you for __________. I appreciate ___________ because ______________. Everyone likes to get mail!
• A thank you e-mail, or text can use the same script.
New habits take practice so give your kids time and patience to develop a gratitude practice. Encourage your children to try new things and help them to find things to be grateful for. You do not have to tell them you are helping them build leadership skills for their future!
Sandi Graham is the Penn State Extension 4-H Educator in Lackawanna County. Penn State Extension is dedicated to delivering science-based information to people, businesses and communities. They partner with and are funded by federal, state and county governments. For more information on what they’re doing in Lackawanna County, visit extension.psu.edu/lackawanna-county.