ENCOURAGING GRATITUDE IN CHILDREN
Many kids (and adults) are possessed by a sense of entitlement, chronically unhappy because they refuse to settle for anything less than getting what they want when they want it. If you’d rather raise children who are grateful for what they have, and who understand that hard work is the most satisfactory way to get more, make the following principles a regular part of your parenting.
Turn a Deaf Ear to Whining
Infants and toddlers naturally scream for instant gratification—but if you keep giving it to them just because you want peace and quiet, they’ll never grow out of it. Once your baby is old enough to talk, he’s old enough to ask politely for what he wants. He’s also old enough to take no for an answer: if he won’t, and becomes increasingly vocal about it, send him to time-out or tell him firmly you’ll discuss it after he calms down (or at a set time such as a family meeting).
But Don’t Say “No” on Autopilot
Sometimes, children are justified in complaining that it’s their parents who won’t listen to reason. If your favorite explanation is “Because I said so,” or if you’re too busy to even listen to a request, your kids will learn to see the world as a place where might makes right and their only power lies in making a scene.
Give Your Children Love and Attention
Whether you say “Yes” or “No” to requests, you give your children no reason to thank you if you deliver your answer in the spirit of “anything to get you to leave me in peace.” More than any privilege or material thing, people want a consistent feeling of having access to someone who cares. Kids whose parents substitute things for time grow up chronically ungrateful because only love can fill an emotional hole in the soul.
Play the “Count Your Blessings” Game
Why should “share something you’re thankful for” be dinner-table conversation only on the fourth Thursday of November? Before saying grace—or when tucking your children into bed, or on family night—ask everyone to share their favorite blessings. If your kids are of reading-and-writing age, give them “blessings journal” notebooks and challenge them to list 3–10 blessings a day: you can create a family tradition of reading lists in a group.
Help Others Less Fortunate Than Yourselves
Distributing clothes to the needy, or tutoring at a children’s home, or serving meals at a food pantry, impresses on anyone of any age that it isn’t so bad working a 9-to-5 job or eating salad for dinner. It’s especially effective if you and your children can directly meet the people you’re serving—and if those people are openly cheerful in spite of their troubles. (You may be surprised how many are.)
Set an Example
Even if you follow all the above suggestions, your children will follow your example if you regularly grumble because you aren’t as rich or prominent or healthy as someone else. Keep a smile on your face and be openly grateful for all you have, and your kids will develop the same habit!