November is the month for Thanksgiving and the kickoff for the holidays, where Americans and parents emphasize gratitude. Dictionary-defined, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful, and the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”

But if you ask a child what “gratitude” means, Erin Sadler says, they may think of “thankful” as only one piece of it, or discuss the things in their lives for which they are grateful.

Sadler is an educator, current co-director of The Learning Academy preschool, based inside the Prairie Athletic Club, and owner of the mindfulness-based parenting consulting resource The Rooted Family (www.therootedfamily.com).

The Rooted Family concept came out of Sadler’s own mindful journey, while she was transitioning out of stay-at-home motherhood and into a corporate position. Sadler is married to Chris Sadler of the Sun Prairie School District and is the mother of three children.

Sadler’s background includes a master’s degree in education, certification as a brain health and life coach, and yoga certification. At the time, she was successfully raising money for charities as a corporate outreach director but felt overwhelmed and stressed by her work-life balance.

“I looked for research to try to turn around my mindset,” Sadler said, and during the process, she developed a passion for brain research and ultimately sought certification. Sadler believes mindset ties everything together.

In the beginning, Sadler says retraining her mindset meant saying “I get to” instead of “I have to” in her busy life balancing work and family. She wanted to teach in a holistic setting.

“What if life didn’t have to be so stressful, and we could teach kids coping techniques for conflict, gratitude, and the ability to live more in the moment?” she wondered.

For the Learning Academy, and later The Rooted Family, Sadler developed mindful “brained based” curriculum for kids and their parents, part of which aimed to teach gratitude through exercises and activities.

The Learning Academy came almost by happenstance. As the corporate outreach director for the Prairie Athletic Club, “I was approached by management, and was told, we have an opening in the room upstairs,” Sadler recalled. “Can you find a way to fill it?” The Learning Academy is now in its third year, serving preschoolers for morning sessions, and taught by Sadler and the co-director and fellow teacher Michelle Jones.

Reading through Sadler’s materials, it’s clear parents can use some improvement, too. What parent hasn’t had a knee-jerk reaction to their child’s tantrums or confrontations? In one lesson, Sadler teaches the different kinds of temper styles and how parents can diffuse children and work with them. Simply standing there when your children are acting out only normalizes the behavior, she points out.

An active practice of working on cognitive thinking has many benefits, including boosting the immune system. Sadler says there are other curriculum plans available for mindfulness and social-emotional learning and they all center around seven principles: kindness, gratitude, a growth mindset, creativity, respect, responsibility and healthy eating with exercise. These principles are “a map for a healthy brain,” said Sadler.

“Neurology determines a successful life,” Sadler said, stating that the University of Wisconsin is one of the leading brain research universities in the nation.

Today, Sadler travels the country speaking on brain health, offers The Rooted Family Circle, a monthly paid membership resource package for parents, authored the free e-book “Parenting Your Frustrated Child”, recently was recognized by national motivational speaker Rachel Hollis, and consults with local schools. She also collaborates with nationally known psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, M.D. and is part of his editing group.

Sadler’s K-5th grade curriculum, “Grow Strong Roots,” has been well-received in schools. Sadler brings in brain models and light-up neurotransmitters, explaining at a basic level how the brain processes certain feelings. She asks students what “gratitude” means. She explains the brain is a muscle and has the students practice gratitude and empathy (“what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes,”) she says.

“If kids can’t recognize gratitude, then they can’t fully connect,” she says.

There are also techniques they can use while in school to control stress.

“Check in with yourself,” Sadler explains.

Students can ask themselves, for example, are you excited by math, or dreading math? These check-ins can be a tool to regulate behavior and anticipate mood.

In the future, Sadler will expand workshops at schools, train teachers, and empower families and kids with information they can practice in their own homes. She says, with kids meeting stress, obesity risk, and mental health challenges daily, they should be equipped with the tools to deal.

And in this season of giving and gratitude, The Rooted Family website if full of ideas to start boosting the brain.

Check out www.therootedfamily.com for more information.

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