5 Ways to Strengthen Your Child’s Ability to Savor (& Build Resilience at the Same Time!)
Savoring is the practice of noticing and getting pleasure from life's little moments, like the feel of sunshine on your back, or hoping into a bed that has fresh, clean sheets. It involves pausing to let our attention linger on what makes us feel good. It's also an enjoyable form of attentional training that captures moments of good experiences to build positivity in real time.
It's also a technique that builds you a “bank account” of goodness to draw on in tough times. When things are going great, there’s plenty to savor. In tough times, your savoring skills let you more easily switch gears to find the positives in situations and in people—including your child and yourself.
In tough times, your savoring skills let you more easily switch gears to find the positives in situations and in people—including your child and yourself.
I’ve made savoring a recommended practice for my Strength-Based Parenting approach because it teaches you and your children how to sidestep our natural negative bias by aiming attention on positive things. It's a form of brain training that helps us focus and sustain our attention.
Moments to savor are everywhere. For example, I love the smell of coffee. Luckily for me, there’s a café on the ground floor of my university building. The aroma of coffee wafts into the lobby each morning, giving me the opportunity for a hit of olfactory pleasure as I come to work. The café also bakes its own cakes and pastries. The only thing better than the smell of a freshly baked blueberry muffin is the taste of a freshly baked blueberry muffin, don’t you think?
Some days, I’m so preoccupied with work that although my nose registers the delectable smells, my mind doesn’t notice. Before I know it, I’m in the elevator without even realizing I’ve passed the café, robbing myself of a small moment of pleasure.
Other days, I remember I can train my attention by savoring the aromas coming from the café. For just the moments I spend crossing the lobby, I switch my attention from work thoughts and place my full attention on my sense of smell. I try to guess what coffee bean has been brewing (Arabica? Robusta?) and what the fresh cake is (Blueberry? Cinnamon?). I relish the pleasure that just these aromas give me. It takes no time away from my busy schedule, but it helps me to aim and sustain my attention and it starts my day on a positive note.
You can build savoring moments into your day as games or activities with your kids. Nick, Emily, and I enjoy looking at the clouds and saying what we think the shapes look like. Savoring has become a big part of our everyday interactions. We luxuriate in the feel of sunshine on our backs, we appreciate the smell of pancakes that Matt sometimes cooks for us on Sunday mornings, we notice sunsets, and we literally stop to smell the roses in our neighborhood.
Savoring not only helps to train your child’s attentional skills but it also boosts happiness, positive mood, and life satisfaction.
Your child’s day is likely to have many little “moments of good” that, until now, have passed unnoticed. Once she learns how to focus on them, she can use them to build her positive bank account. And children with positive bank accounts have healthy reserves to draw from during challenging times:
My freshman year of college has been a huge adjustment for me. It’s the longest I’ve been away from home and the most challenging academics I’ve ever had. The social scene is super exciting but also intimidating. Sometimes I’m really afraid I won’t be able to perform up to the standards here. I’ve found that one way to help me stay calm is, before falling asleep, I’ll picture summer evenings at home. I imagine being with my parents and going over to hang out with the neighbors on their back porch in the dark, looking out into the woods, listening to the sounds of the summer night, talking about this and that, with their springer spaniel lying underfoot for cuddles. This picture of home calms me so much. It reminds me that home will always be there for me, because I carry it in my mind.
Five Ways to Strengthen Your Child’s Ability to Savor
Here are some ways you can help your child learn to stop and savor the moment or the feeling:
1. Noticing the environment.
Nature is full of beauty and wonders, providing endless opportunities for aiming and sustaining your child’s attention. Emily has recently become interested in birds. She takes long walks with her grandfather, a knowledgeable bird watcher, savoring the calls and colors of our beautiful Australian birds.
2. Enjoying physical sensations.
Our bodies are like walking savoring devices. We can take pleasure in smells, sounds, and physical sensations. You can encourage your child to savor the taste of chocolate, the smell of dinner, the feel of warm water splashing on his back in the shower, the refreshment of a cool drink on a hot day, or a hug or a back rub. Next time you put fresh sheets on your child’s bed, invite your child to notice what it feels like to slip under those crisp, clean covers.
3. Creating family time.
The simple act of hanging out together as a family is something kids can savor. Watching a movie, cooking together, eating a meal, going for a walk, or exercising together are all activities to savor. One of my friends has a daughter who is a senior in high school, and the two of them have been going to the movies together. Not only is this a way for them to spend time together, but it’s also an important way for her daughter to de-stress from school pressures and learn that she can turn her attention away from stress and toward something positive.
4. Remembering happy times.
Savoring need not be focused on the present moment. You can encourage your children to engage in what Fred Bryant, PhD, calls “reminiscent savoring,” by thinking back to happy times in their lives, as the college freshman did, above. Try reminiscent savoring if your child has had a bad day. First, let him share with you about his day and the negative feelings he’s having. Once things have settled down a bit, try reminiscent savoring to gently move your child out of unhappiness and back into happiness. Often with my own kids I talk to them about a funny incident from the past or dig into my memory for a time when they’ve had the opposite experience of what upset them. If they’ve had an argument with a friend, I let them get all their negative feelings out, we talk about a solution for moving forward, and then we talk about a time when they had a good time with that person. It always helps them to feel better, and they learn that they can direct their thoughts and attention away from something negative, toward something positive.
Scrapbooking is one of my downtime activities and is also an effective form of savoring. As I look over the photos and assemble the pages depicting various significant family events, I reminisce about the event, and it makes me feel happy. Sometimes Nick and Emily join in and make a scrapbook page about events in their life, such as their birthday parties or family holidays. I love it when this happens, because we have wonderful conversations as they savor the moment aloud.
5. Looking ahead.
You can also encourage your children to think about something good planned for the future. For example, high school graduation, a family vacation, an upcoming trip, what they’ll be having for dinner that night. This is called “anticipatory savoring.” It teaches kids that they can take control of their attention and direct their own mental time travel to the future if they want to find ways of making themselves happy. Some parents are reluctant to do this because they worry they might be setting up their child for disappointment. I don’t believe that the potential of future disappointment should be a reason to stop the child from gaining the current benefits of anticipatory savoring. The key here is to help your child look forward to future joy and get the benefits of anticipatory savoring now while ensuring that when the moment does arise, the child actually stays in the moment rather than comparing it to an imagined ideal. If the moment doesn’t match up to expectations, you can use disappointment as an opportunity to practice resilient thinking—from finding unexpected positives to calling on the child’s strengths to move ahead despite disappointment to thinking up ways to improve the moment next time.
One night recently, Nick came into the kitchen and urged me outside to show me the sunset. It was a beautiful pink sky, shot with purple and orange. He had noticed it from his bedroom window. I savored that moment, and not just because the sunset was beautiful. Over the years, as we have practiced savoring, Nick’s brain is now wired to notice and savor these moments of good. His positive bank account is well stocked. That’s what I savored.
Whenever I feel like we’re having a good moment, I’ve formed the habit of saying “Life’s pretty good.” It’s a verbal cue for savoring that I use to highlight and extend the moment for all of us. Recently, I was bouncing on the trampoline in the backyard with Emily. She suggested we lie on the trampoline and do some cloud watching. As we told each other what we were seeing in the clouds, she spontaneously said, “Life’s pretty good.” My heart soared as high as the clouds we were looking at because both of my children are learning how to direct their attention toward positive experiences of their own accord. Mission accomplished.
EXERCISE: Make a Savoring List and a Pleasure Pact
On a sheet of paper, make a list of the things you savor. Don’t spend too much time thinking about it; just write down things that always give you a lift, make you smile, inspire you, or otherwise bring you pleasure. It could be as simple as the smell of coffee, the sound of surf on the beach, greeting your pet when you get home, that first bite of a favorite food, or seeing your child laugh with delight. If you have trouble coming up with a list, no worries. It’s a sign that some good savoring time should be in your future!
Next, talk with your child about the idea of savoring. Explain what it means. Together with your child, make a list of things your child savors. You might share your savoring list with your child. Together, make a pleasure pact to remind each other to remember to savor the things you listed. Look for things to add to your lists.
Read more by Lea... Why Gratitude is the Best Gift We Can Give Our Children This Holiday Season
This post includes excerpts from Lea Waters’s book “The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish" which has numerous footnotes supporting the research cited here.
Photo credits (in order of appearance): Leo Rivas Micoud, Rob Bye, Enis Yavuz, Relive Media Co UK, Caroline Hernandez, Alberto Casetta, Joanna Kosinska, Jenu Prasad, and Patrick Fore on Unsplash.
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