In keeping with my character training series, I want to focus today on gratitude. Christmas is over and with it came presents, culinary indulgences and lots of time with family and friends. As children are growing and learning there can be a tendency for them to begin thinking they “deserve” all kinds of things. I deserve lots of toys. I deserve an X-box (or whatever they are called). I deserve an iPad. I deserve a new cell phone. I deserve it, all my friends have it! Mothers, this madness has to stop. Self-entitlement flies in the face of gratitude and is its antithesis. If you think you deserve something then you aren’t grateful for it, you are simply insulted without it.
Children deserve love, attention, affection, and security. They do not deserve expensive material things just because they are alive.
Just the other day Pickles (2 years old) and I were grocery shopping. At our store they have baskets on wheels that can be pulled and she decided she wanted to do the pulling. I put everything but milk in the basket and let her pull it. She was wearing her sunglasses and pulling our basket and it crossed my mind, “We work for our food, why shouldn’t she do her part?” Of course, I don’t make her work for her food, per se, but why shouldn’t kids contribute to efforts on the home front? The more they help and understand how much it takes to run a house, the more grateful they’ll be for. Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement.
1. Stop the self-entitlement.
I think most mothers would agree that we don’t want to raise self-entitled children. The problem is that self-entitlement is so ingrained in our culture now that the ideas and thoughts go deep. When we try to stop the self-entitlement we can even begin to feel guilty, as though we are being bad mothers because we are depriving our children of something. I believe culture has gone far enough towards raising entitled children that we don’t even know how ridiculous some things are. Leftovers, for example.
We eat leftovers in our house for a number of reasons. 1) I took the time to cook, 2) We live on a budget, and 3) It saves time, and 4) leftovers are still food. My children aren’t old enough to say anything about leftovers yet, but I assure you there will be serious conversations if they get snooty. If my children think themselves above eating food prepared previously (and stored safely) because it isn’t quite as fresh as it could be, well then I hope they don’t think themselves above going hungry. Because if we can take food for granted so much that we’d rather throw it away than eat it any other time than right after it’s been prepared, we have a real entitlement problem.
2. Realize where things come from.
Children will be more grateful when they know the effort involved in providing things for them and others. A toy isn’t just a toy. A toy is something daddy and mommy worked for, saved for, and then went and bought for you. It came through effort and decision. And then the toy is given not because the child is owed a toy, but because they desired to delight their child. I have my children help with dinner when I’m able and that’s a great way to teach the concept of gratitude.
It isn’t just “I’m hungry, where’s dinner?” as though you live to serve their needs in their timing. Getting food on the table involves working for money, using that money to buy ingredients, and taking the time to prepare ingredients. Multiple times a day. Not to mention the dishes. If we get our children involved from the ground up then they’ll see what is involved and not think that “I want an iPad because Jimbob has one” is a valid argument, but rather “I’d like to get an iPad, are there some things I can do around here to earn some money?”
3. Practice giving thanks.
I still like practicing the long forgotten art of a thank you note. When an email is quicker or a text, that is effective too, but I teach my children to write thank you notes. By that I mean, I write the thank you note and they color and scribble on it. It is easy to feel thankful for something in the moment, but oh how quickly we forget. Writing a thank you note requires discipline because it involves thinking of someone and their efforts after the deed is done. I also think it’s important to teach our children to verbally thank people. This can be intimidating if they need to speak with an adult with whom they aren’t very familiar, but the scenario can always be practiced at home. This will help teach them how to express gratitude and help them to become familiar and confident in expressing their heart to others.
I think teaching gratitude will come both in the form of crushing entitled thinking and instilling thankful thinking. I also believe the battle will lie mainly in our own hearts. I often feel guilty for not doing this or that for my children until I remember I’m doing my absolute best to give them the things they deserve (love, attention, affection, security, my time, etc.). The other stuff is just gravy.
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