Have you ever tried to do something special for your kids, only to have them complain about it or during it? Few things irritate me more with my children than ingratitude. Luckily, they know this and have improved tremendously. I vividly remember promising to take them to a movie only to end up staying home because of complaints surrounding the potential outing.
Most children aren’t born naturally generous or grateful. A lot of work goes into making them think of others before themselves. The more privileged a child is, the harder it is to teach them to value what they have.
This is a growing problem in our society, and something I have not only battled in my own home but have battled as a teacher. When I worked at an affluent school, I would witness some kids utterly destroy their school supplies. When confronted, one boy simply said, “My mom will just buy me more.” We don’t often think of it this way, but scarcity can be beneficial.
What You Can Do
Here are several tips to help you make gratitude for possessions and experiences a part of your home.
- Limit what you buy for your kids. Try to save special things for holidays and birthdays. Maybe instead of “things”, you opt for experiences together. Give them a budget for such times like back to school shopping or birthday party planning to teach them money management.
- Develop the habit of giving away a portion of their money early. There is a book called The Three Cups. It teaches children to spend some, save some and give some away. The concept of giving is often associated with church or religion but teaching generosity regardless of religious belief is important. Donating to an animal shelter or food pantry is important, too.
- Delay gratification. If there is a special item, such as expensive new shoes your child really wants but seems excessive, provide ways for them to earn money so they can buy it. Make them wait until they have every last penny.
- Expose them in a safe, natural way to people who are less fortunate. I have had my kids go with me to deliver items to our local crisis pregnancy center. We have found opportunities for them to serve the homeless in different ways. We also sponsor a child from Rwanda through World Vision and this creates a great opportunity to have a semi-direct connection with someone in much different circumstances than their own.
- Make generosity a topic of ongoing discussion at your house. Point out when your kids are generous to one another. Reward them for that if you can. Ask them at dinner how they were generous to someone at school that day.
- Remember, you are the parent and the world should not revolve around your children. Saying no can be incredibly hard, but the temporary tantrum or disgust is far easier to deal with than the ongoing sense of entitlement that you might unintentionally cultivate in your children.
- Assign chores. Some can earn money, but some shouldn’t. We stress in our household that we are all in this together and some jobs are just expectations.
- We go through toys a couple of times a year, especially before Christmas and have the boys donate some. We stress how there are many children whose families can’t afford brand new toys and we don’t need to hold on to things that others can make use of.
These ideas may or may not help right away, but each one leads your family a step in the right direction. We have definitely made progress in our home, but it is a constant journey.
One last word of encouragement: if this issue worries you, then congratulations! That means you actually care and aren’t most of us just doing the best job we can? Give yourself a break, and take time sometime today with your kids to recount some of the things for which you can all be grateful.