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Five Minutes with … Psychology Professor Jeffrey Froh

Making Grateful Kids
Making Grateful Kids

Dr. Jeffrey Froh, associate professor of psychology, specializes in studying the effects of expressing gratitude, particularly in children and adolescents. In a study he published in 2008, Dr. Froh found that middle school students who counted their blessings and acknowledged the things they were grateful for reported higher levels of well-being than those who did not. In 2009 Dr. Froh was involved in studies that showed women are better able then men to feel and express gratitude towards others and thus derive the social and personal benefits that come from such expressions. He also found that among adolescents, girls expressed gratitude more readily than boys, but boys may actually derive more of a benefit when they are able to do so.

His book, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character (Templeton Press, Feb. 2014), teaches parents and other adults with kids in their lives how to make children and adolescents grateful by using over 30 scientifically-supported concrete strategies. Read more at: http://www.templetonpress.org/book/making-grateful-kids

How long have you been teaching at Hofstra?

7 years.

What are some of the classes you are teaching this semester?

Positive psychology for undergrad students and research methods for our PsyD students in school psychology.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Aside from trying to get students to see life differently, and hopefully then live differently, I love mentoring students, taking an interest in them, and steering them towards a path to purpose. I find it interesting that with all of the technological advancements people bring in to the classroom to facilitate learning, some of the tried and true practices still remain the core for effective teaching. For me the number one practice is keeping the human touch alive. So many students simply want to feel valued and know that people care about them. So I try very hard to get to know my students on a personal level. Doing so, I’ve found, doesn’t just help me really connect with them, but it creates a nurturing environment where my students are comfortable being themselves in the classroom and taking risks with their contributions. This sets the stage for students to not just memorize a bunch of facts, but to apply what they learn to their lives and really squeeze the juice out of class.

Your research has been about the importance instilling gratefulness in children and adolescents – what led you to focus your work in this area?

When I was a practicing school psychologist, I worked with one young teen whose family was very poor. Aside from having few material things compared to the well-off kids he went to school with, his life was also much more stressful. For example, rather than being bused in from around the corner, he had to rise at 5:30 a.m. to get the bus because he lived far away from school. So this kid was unfortunately pretty sleep-deprived. One winter day I saw him standing in the middle of the hallway, grinning from ear to ear with his arms spread out, yelling, “Hey Dr. Froh, check out this new cool jacket my teacher gave me.” Now appreciate that this wasn’t really a “cool” jacket; it was an oversized sport jacket. But the teacher gave it to him so he had at least something to keep him warm. And that’s when it really hit me. What makes this kid so special that he can be grateful for a jacket most kids would be embarrassed to wear, I thought? And can we somehow teach other kids to be grateful like him? This experience and these questions drive my research program, which largely focuses on created empirically-supported interventions for making grateful kids.

Is there any one thing parents can do or say every day to work on this with their kids?

I think the most important thing parents can do is to model for their kids how to express gratitude, give thanks, and be generous. Our children want to be like us. That’s a fact. Expressing gratitude verbally, through writing, and through small gifts or acts of reciprocity are all ways to teach children how to become grateful. Doing this will help make your appreciation for the goodness in your life more public, showing your kids that blessings abound and that being thankful is a valued attitude. If your kids witness any of these simple yet beautiful acts, perfect; if they don’t, tell them. A little tutoring goes a long way in fostering their gratitude development. And parents need to remember, little eyes are watching them.

Is the proliferation of technology in the household impacting families’ ability to be grateful? Are we not focusing on the sweet, simple things around us?

Yes. One of the biggest problems with using technology excessively is that it pulls us away from the present moment. When we’re with our kids, it’s critical that we be with them physically and mentally. This may require that we shut off our smart phones during these precious moments (and I’m only using smart phones as one example of technology; I could’ve chosen many others).  But doing so helps us focus only our on child which, in turn, helps us strengthen our bond with them. This is critical because a strong, nurturing, and loving parent-child relationship is a major source of gratitude for kids. It’s something they can turn to not just when times are good, but, and more importantly, when times are bad. This relationship, and the gratitude it creates, will fuel a child’s resilience.

What is your favorite feel-good movie? One would think based on your research maybe It’s a Wonderful Life?

It’s a Wonderful Life is an AMAZING movie, and we watch it every Christmas. I absolutely love dramas about social relationships, but for some reason I can’t come up with my favorite one (though I think Good Will Hunting rocks!). With the holidays approaching, however, I can tell you that I’m jumping out of my skin to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, The Polar Express, and The Grinch with my family. Dim the lights, get the blankets and some hot chocolate, and I’m good to go!

In the movie of your life, who would you want to play you?

Hands down Hugh Jackman. Aside from being insanely talented, both on the screen and the stage, and jacked (if I can’t have his physique in my real life, why not have it for myself in a movie?) he’s a real family man. He absolutely adores his wife and kids, and he had an amazing relationship with his dad growing up. Without question, my greatest purpose in life is to be the best husband and father possible. My family means everything to me. So if someone were to play me in a movie, I’d need someone who has the same values. And from what I know about Jackman, he does.

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