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Appreciative Mindset

Creating an Attitude of Appreciation (ages 0-8+)

Appreciation can mean many different things to different people but most agree it’s a good feeling and one to incorporate in ourselves and in our children.

Here is the most common definition of appreciation.




  1. recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something. "I smiled in appreciation" (Oxford Languages Dictionary)

It’s not always easy, however, to feel appreciative. Many people wake up each day and focus on their problems and complaints. Appreciative people also have problems and complaints but they pay more attention to their plans and goals.

So let's think about kids for a minute, especially babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Do we need to intentionally teach them appreciation or will they just absorb it from us? How do kids learn to be appreciative?

Today we’ll discover

  • 5 little questions that can turn your family’s mindset from anger and unhealthy competition to appreciation and helpfulness

  • How to appreciate your child’s unique learning style and use activities to enhance and balance their strengths without leaving any area behind.

  • 3 little words that teach your child to be appreciative today!


The questions you ask yourself and your family may just be the keys to a happy and appreciative life. That's the premise the the philosophy of "appreciative inquiry" comes from.

When you ask a really good question, it's important to remember to listen non-judgementally.

Here are my top 5 questions for appreciative mindset and emotional growth.

1) What do you do well?

Asking this forces them to start thinking about their own positive traits. In order to help others, we have to first feel good about ourselves.

2) What does this family do well together?

This question helps them feel good about working together to reach positive goals.

3) Did you do your best?

It's fairly easy for kids to pick up on the habit of criticizing others. This question helps them to feel in control of their own growth and learning.

4) Are you OK?

This question teaches empathy through example.

5) What can we learn from this?

They say that every cloud has a silver lining and this thoughful question can emphasize that point.

All about learning

The desire to learn is a force that drives almost all behavior. If we don't learn to adapt, we don't survive.

Now think about misbehavior for a minute. It's possible that all misbehavior has its roots in learning. The child tries to learn something. The parent doesn't like the chosen method. Like when the child wants to learn about the properties of dirt found in the potted plants and the adult has a differant idea.

It's OK to respectfully stop your child from throwing dirt on the carpet day after day. It's not ok to ignore his desire to learn. That desire is too strong. Get your child's desires met by letting them spend a lot of time in the sandbox or even, heaven forbid, play in the dirt. And while you're at it, try mixing in a little bit of water for added fun.

When you lack a developmental understanding of your child's behavior, you can easily and understandably get frustrated with your child or even angry when they try persisently to learn about their world.

Think about what happens when a child gets punished or yelled at for trying to learn and that happens over and over again, day in an day out. The more persistant a child's desire to learn, the more trouble they may get in.

Do you see how their desire to learn can cause confusion when they're shamed for it? Since it feels good to the child to learn, they could easiy start to think that the only way to feel good is to misbehave.

One possible answer to this is to understand their desire to learn and provide it, while setting boundaries for respect and consideration of others at the same time.

This is easier to do when we understand learning styles. I’ve personally spent a lot of time researching this topic when preparing for my master’s thesis. The gist of the matter is this:

It’s good to have an idea of your child’s unique learning style and especially their strengths but to cater to those strengths is one of the worst mistakes a parent or a teacher can make. What our children need from us is balance. They need to use their strengths to learn more about the areas they’re weak in.

As we learned in previous lessons, multi-sensory experiences are the magical path to balance. Children do this naturally when they play.

What does this have to do with appreciation? A lot, actually. When you appreciate your child’s learning and give them avenues to pursue their own unique learning goals you operate within each other’s realm of appreciation. Without this understanding, you may be at odds with each other most of the time because of the unique ways your child wants to learn.

Here’s a resource that really helped me to accept and appreciate my child as well as the children I've worked with over the years. It's called How Your Child Is Smart by Dawna Markova. I couldn't have survived 44 years in early chldhood education without this book. I also learned a lot about myself from it. I'm not affiliated with Amazon but I linked it for your convenience.

When you can accept and appreciate your child, they can learn to appreciate others including yourself. Children do learn by observation and example more than they learn from you telling them things.

Now for the moment you've been waiting for. The 3 little words that can change your relationship with your challenging (or easy to please) child for the better in just one day! I’ve done it myself many times and it works. The words are…..drum roll please…

That was Helpful.

Yep, that's it! It’s nice if you can add the child's name and what they did that helped you out.

That was helpful, Stuart! You shut off all the lights in the house before we left. Now I don't have to do it and we can leave right now. Plus it helps the Earth. Let's go to the park!

That way everyone in the room knows one thing they can do to make you happy!

I touch on a few more ideas you can use in my article on How to Have a Great Day With Your Challenging Child.

One last but very important note on appreciation. It's good to use your daily routine to focus on the good things that are coming up next. That way when you're trying to get through something that's not so much fun you can look forward to the next thing that is, like going outside to play!

I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts that may help create a mindset of appreciation. The first one is my mantra and the second, a popular saying that helps many parents cope.

My only goal is inner peace

The only moment is now

My only functions are appreciation and forgiveness (starting with myself)


You may not be the best parent or teacher in the world but you're the one they need today!

I hope you learned at least one helpful thing today. If so, it’s all worthwhile for me!

If you want more ideas about kids or Creating Empathy Through Play, you can get my 10 part series delivered to your inbox as they’re written. You’ll also immediately get a free copy of my slideshow, How To Get Kids To Listen Without Yelling or Timeouts (21 oneliners) when you come play with us and stay connected! Even if you don't want to join us in the fun, you can check out some of my other articles on empathy and appreciation here.

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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