Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Teaching Kids To Be Grateful

Few things please me more as a parent than my children expressing genuine gratitude for the things they are blessed with.  I was just talking to my mom about how she and my dad did such a great job raising children who don't have a sense of entitlement. 

First of all, my parents rarely handed anything to us.  We were expected to do chores and we received an allowance of a dollar a week.  Once in a while we were given candybars at the store, but if we wanted that Barbie Doll, we were expected to save our own money.  Otherwise, we could put it on our Christmas or birthday lists and maybe we would get them.  I saved ten weeks to buy my own Barbie Doll and I learned to value my belongings because I knew they didn't come easily.

Being expected to help around the house, I learned quickly that my mom worked hard and I was grateful for her.  I was only doing a fraction of what she did every day.  She would get up early, make sure we were presentable, fed, made our lunches, had a nutritious dinner on the table at a predictable hour 90% of the time, drove us all over the place, helped us with homework, and more.  She worked part time at our school on top of all of those things.  She also found individual time for each of us kids, gave us lots of praise, and would frequently surprise us with homemade bread or chocolate chip cookies.

My dad worked hard every day and was never careless with their income.  He was able to deny himself the things he really wanted and saved for them.  During times of unemployment, his new job was looking for work.  He spent all day every day contacting people without the aid of email or Internet job listings.  We always had what we needed somehow and my parents did a pretty good job shielding us from the fact that they were stressed.  Knowing that feeling now, I appreciate them even more.

As I spoke with my mom this morning, she said she wasn't able to give us everything we wanted, but I told her that was more than fine.  It was what we needed.  I believe the more we give children what they want, the more they want.

When you see the grateful look on their faces as toddlers, it is hard to resist giving them everything they desire because they are so adorable, but over time those innocent smiles turn into, "I DIDN'T WANT THAT!  I WANTED THIS!"  At about six years old, our oldest son's birthday ended quite sadly because he exclaimed, "I DON'T WANT THAT GAME!  I WANTED STAR WARS LEGOS!"  We had given him quite a few things he asked for and his dad bought a game because he thought it would be fun to play it with him.  Rather than focusing on the fun things he had been given, he threw a fit.  It was heartbreaking, but after attempting to explain to him how ungrateful he was behaving, he continued to scowl.  So we took down the decorations and put his presents out of reach.  We felt so mean, but knew it was necessary.

To teach our kids gratitude, we also need to set the example.  Do we constantly talk about the things we don't have rather than expressing thanks for what we do have?  Our place is very small and it's hard not to complain about it, but during our family prayers, we thank our Heavenly Father that we have a place to live and food to eat.  We teach our kids about people all over the world who have so much less than we do.

As a family, we can write thank you cards to people and to each other.  Verbal expressions are also wonderful.  One of my piano students called me on the phone recently just to tell me how grateful she was for me.  It made my day!  I knew her parents instilled those values in her.

During this month of Thanksgiving, I hope your family finds countless things to be grateful for. 

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