A positive daily routine that will nurture emotional wellbeing
Routine can be good for children because it gives them a sense of security. By knowing what to expect, they can feel safe in their environment and can flex their ‘discipline muscle’, which will serve them well in life. However, I do also feel that too much structure prevents them from developing an ability to be self-directed and can make them feel stifled. Freedom to play autonomously and to make independent choices builds confidence and self-belief. It teaches children to trust themselves and how to take control of their lives, which is important. If we want children to grow into teenagers and adults who can think for themselves and be strong-minded when they need to be, we need to give them the opportunity to develop these attributes when they are younger. We may feel that we need to keep children entertained and plan a full day (especially in these lockdown/home-schooling days), but I believe that giving them periods of freedom, even if they choose to relax and do nothing, is imperative.
As parents, my husband and I have always had routines in place that we feel are important such as a set bedtime and a self-care routine. However, with regards to day-to-day life, we have always been quite relaxed. Like every parent at the moment, we are juggling business and work-life with home-schooling. We have set, small bursts of time dedicated to the work that our children have been sent to do, and then we have other periods of time dedicated to free play and relaxation.
Every night we also have a special routine that I’d love to share with you because it has had a profound impact on us all…
Our special routine
For many years, I have written in a gratitude journal as part of my own morning routine and when my daughter (who was 3 at the time) asked me what I was doing, I decided to introduce the practice to her. Even though I thought she might be a bit too young to understand, I explained that I was saying thank you for things and gave her simple examples:
- ‘Thank you for my pencil because it means I can draw’
- ‘Thank you for my eyes because I can see your lovely face’
I then said the start of a sentence and paused so she could have a go at finishing it:
- ‘Thank you for my cup because…’
- ‘Thank you for the chair because…’
She quickly understood, excitedly finished each sentence, and then much to my surprise she spontaneously shouted out her own:
- ‘Thank you for my friends because they are kind to me’
- ‘Thank you for my pre-school because I can play’
Her face lit up with a big smile throughout the whole conversation and I realised that doing this together for a few minutes on a daily basis would actually be a really positive routine to have. I was right and it quickly became our favourite part of the day.
I then had a lightbulb moment and thought how wonderful it would be if every childcare setting did a little gratitude circle each day too, so I launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.
#ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement
Through my business, Early Years Story Box, I have written and illustrated a collection of storybooks that support children’s emotional wellbeing and teach them about positive values. In the collection, I have a character called Oaky Owl who is in a book that supports children through transition and also in another book that teaches them about gratitude. It seemed fitting to include him in this campaign, which is why I use the hashtag #ThankYouOaky.
There is a free pack available for settings to download, but here is an overview of how to do this simple technique:
1. Sit in a circle and explain to the children that you are going to say ‘thank you’ for different things.
2. Start by giving examples:
- ‘Thank you for my eyes because I can see’
- ‘Thank you for the clock because I can tell the time’
- ‘Thank you for toys because we can play’
(It is important to say the ‘because’ part of the sentence because this is where appreciation is developed. It gets us all to see the brilliance in the things we have around us by thinking about why we are grateful for them).
3. Then, start the sentence and stop so that children can finish it:
- ‘Thank you for my legs because…’
- ‘Thank you for my friends because…’
- ‘Thank you for the chair because…’
4. Ask children if they want to say their own sentence.
5. Finish by all shouting ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ after the count of three. This is important because it compounds the feeling of appreciation and injects an extra bit of positivity.
The evolution of our gratitude routine…
As a family, our little gratitude ritual has evolved quite a bit over time and really is the most beautiful part of our day. We all absolutely love it and our children (who are now 5 and 7) look forward to it every night.
I thought it would be nice to share what we do so that you can pick and choose the parts that you might want to add as little extras to your own #ThankYouOaky gratitude routine.
We sit in a circle, sometimes holding hands, and take it in turns to say the following things:
- Something that could have been better today
- Your favourite thing about today
- What you are thankful for and why
- Something that is precious to you
- Something that you are proud of
- A happy wish for someone
- Something you love about yourself
- We then end by shouting ‘Love me, love me, love me. Love you, love you, love you. Thank you, thank you, thank you’.
I added numbers 1 & 2 (something that could have been better and our favourite thing about the day) because I wanted to give my children a safe space to talk about their day. I also added number 6 (a happy wish for someone) because I wanted them to start thinking about other people and to develop their ability to build others up and to wish them well. With this, there’s also a subtle message about doing the right thing even when others aren’t looking. These people don’t know that we are sending them a happy wish, or that we are thinking about them and there’s something really special about that.
The rest of the list has actually been added by my children, which is something that I never expected. As time went by, and they got used to our routine, they started coming up with ideas and asking if we could add them to our ‘circle’. I was blown away by how profound these things were, and it showed me how truly powerful this daily practice is because it was naturally encouraging them to think more deeply about things. It was also developing their ability to look inwardly.
The power of the mind…
Our mind is a powerful tool and something that needs to be developed. We go to the gym to work on our fitness, but when do we ever take the time to work on our minds? As an adult, having a daily gratitude and mindset routine has had a profound impact on me and it is something that I would recommend to everyone. However, the key is to teach children this when they are young and to make it a normal part of their day. Imagine how different the world would be if everyone appreciated the small things in life. In our fast-paced, digital society, it can be easy to forget about what’s truly important. The #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement (and our other little routine if you choose to add bits from it too), gives children the tools to stay grounded, to look inwardly and to see the beauty in the small things.
In the words of Oprah: “The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now. And the more grateful you are, the more you get.”
What we focus on grows. By instilling a positive and grateful mindset from a young age, we are giving children the best foundation for happiness and success. A grateful heart will always be happier than one that is always searching for more. The #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement is a simple technique that can have a huge impact and I’d love for you to join me on my mission to make this a standard practice in homes and childcare settings throughout the UK and beyond.
I’d love for you to post about your #ThankyouOaky experiences, tag Early Years Story Box if you can and use the #ThankyouOaky hashtag so that we can all go on this journey of gratitude together.
Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.
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