Worried you’ve got an entitled spoiled child on your hands? Here are some things to do and not to do to encourage gratitude.
The other month we were on a lovely vacation in the Florida Keys.
Our vacation rental was on the ocean and the kids could crawl around on the rocks all day, searching for hermit crabs and shells. We took our boat snorkeling.
There was a tour at a nearby turtle hospital the kids enjoyed. We even – I’m not joking – swam with dolphins.
And you know what else happened that trip?
- Fighting over a seat on the couch.
- Complaining about the side dish they were served at the ocean front restaurant with a swim up pool.
- Pointing out imperfections in the little town.
- Arguing over the snack they were given (or not given).
- Getting huffy if they had to wait.
What was I doing wrong?
HOW ARE THEY ALL SPOILED?
I sent out an SOS text to all my friends and, well, we commiserated together. It’s hard these days when our kids have so much more than we did growing up.
We feel like half their childhood is AWESOME and then they complain about the color of the brand new tennis shoes.
And we are like… aren’t you grateful for this WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Well, of course, I came back to a fundamental truth… it’s human nature to see what we do NOT have. It’s like water going downhill. It takes work, ingenuity, and purpose to get it flowing uphill.
What to do to encourage gratitude in your spoiled child
Children mirror what they see and copy what they hear. And, to some adults (myself included) it may come out sounding like they are spoiled rotten.
First of all, take a second to evaluate what was actually said.
Could it be that your child was just stating their unbiased observation about their circumstance?
- For example: One of my boys once told me (while I was cooking him homemade pancakes) that his grandma’s pancakes were the very best because she puts sprinkles in hers. For a moment it sounded like a big fat complaint about my pancakes…
Was he really acting like a spoiled child by bashing the pancakes I was hard at making? Or was he just remembering a time when he enjoyed his grandma’s pancakes?
I think it was the latter…
Secondly, gear your child’s language to better suit gratitude.
Use a lot of grace filled language- language that lifts up the positives in a situation instead of what is “different” or “unsatisfactory.”
- In the example above, I paused before responding to make sure I would handle his remark correctly (it took a bit of will power.) Then, I said “I am so glad you love your grandma’s yummy pancakes. Isn’t it great that you get to eat so many different types of foods from the people that love you!”
It wasn’t just a moment later that he was telling me how much he loved my pancakes too.
In conclusion, I have found that in many cases a child that sounds spoiled may just be slightly misunderstood.
As parents we can encourage gratitude by re-directing their comments to those that show grace and positive outlooks.
Kids are used to what they’re used to and they’re nature is to complain… So, it all comes out like they’re spoiled. We need to point them to gratitude, thankfulness, and teach them how to speak these things.
Some simple & practical ways to teach them how…
- Teach them to make eye contact when saying “thank you”
- Make it a dinnertime tradition for each member of the family to tell what they were thankful for that day
- Saying grace before meals
- Writing thank you notes
- Model application of other’s in front of your children
- Verbally thanking God throughout the day for his blessings (where your kid’s can hear)
- Teach that we take good care of gifts from others
- Never speak negatively of authority (teachers, spiritual leadership, or government) in front of the kids
- Say thank you to them when they do something nice for you. Be specific in why you’re thankful and make it meaningful.
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What not to do if you feel your child is spoiled
Kid’s are always going to respond way better to correction when parents are teaching them in a peaceful way. In fact, research shows that kid’s will competly tune out lecturing (especially if there is yelling involved.)
As a parent of children that occasionally act spoiled, I need to make sure that I’m not berating, shaming, or guilt tripping them into a mental frenzy.
None of us are naturally grateful and it’s true that some have to work harder at being grateful than others. This may be true for kids who technically have everything they need and more!
This doesn’t mean that we don’t want out kids to have what they need…
It just means that we need to understand where they’re coming from and teach maturity through gracious language and modeling thankfulness.
Speaking to your children before entering into a situation where a “spoiled child” – mom flying off the handle moment may occur can help!
- For example: Maybe you’re going to stop by an elderly neighbors and they always have a little gift for your kids… If you’re expecting this, you can tell you kid’s what behavior you expect out of them before even going in. They can practice showing gratitude for the gift, even if they don’t really want/like/need it.
What you don’t want to do it shame them for their rotten behavior in front of another adult, or even worse… belittle them when you get back into the vehicle for something they didn’t even realize they did wrong.
Try to avoid…
- Yelling... yes, I know sometimes it’s hard
- Embarrassing them in front of their peers or other adults
- Shaming them for their actions
- Putting them into situations where they don’t know how to behave
- Keeping a grudge against them for their spoiled behavior
- Lecturing, lecturing, lecturing on a situation that has already been forgotten by them
- Making them feel guilty for letting you down
Each of these above practices will inevitably lead to bitterness, resentment, and quite possibly rebellion.
For me, I want to raise children that will lift other people up… be an encourager to those around them. So, I need to be sure I’m being that for them.
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Simple gratitude practices
There are lots of simple gratitude practices that you can do with your kids! A practice is something that is done regularly and eventually becomes a habit…
This is, after all, what we want gratitude to be for out children… a habit!
Speak Gratitude/Teach through Modeling- Kid’s are watching and listening… If you don’t do so already, begin your practice of gracious language and conscious use of appreciation in your words. You’ll be surprised how quick they catch on.
Journaling– Writing down, coloring, or even collaging things to be thankful for.
Gratitude Jar/Box- Write a new thing each day and drop it in. Simple and usually leads to great discussions.
Thankful Prompts- Write a different prompt on each index card and each morning, read and discuss with the kids. “I’m thankful for three things I hear, I’m thankful for two things I taste, I’m thankful for five things in my home, etc.” You can make it a game if you want.
Reflective Discussions- Make it a family tradition to openly reflect on what we’re thankful for.
Writing Letters- Putting gratitude into writing can be a beautiful tool and skill that kids will take even into adulthood.
Prayer/Meditation- Conscious thoughts and prayers revolving around gratitude can be a powerful daily practice.
I wouldn’t try to start ALL of these practices tomorrow with all of your kids. You’re going to be overwhelmed for sure. But, grabbing one or two and incorporating them into your daily schedule may be an easy way to stop the spoiled child issues your having…
So about all that complaining…
After that fateful trip where they “should have been” thankful but were complaining… I started focusing more on gratitude.
And then, one day after church, the Sunday school teacher came and told me the kids were bragging o