How to Instill Gratitude and Kindness in Kids When They Are Surrounded by Abundance
My son lost a tooth last week and the Tooth Fairy left a dollar under his pillow. When I asked him if the Tooth Fairy came, he said he wasn’t sure, he hadn’t checked. I asked him why and he said, well, the Tooth Fairy only leaves a dollar. Apparently, a dollar is nothing to get excited about anymore.
My son isn’t an overly greedy kid. He knows he doesn’t get new stuff every time we go to the store. Yet, he is so used to his privileged life that he doesn’t get excited over a dollar. While he isn’t greedy or spoiled, he definitely isn’t grateful for what he owns.
This isn’t the first time I have noticed the entitlement. I’m not a fan of giving an allowance for chores. I feel like every member of the family needs to contribute to the house and it is just part of being in a family. However, while my 7 year old cleans up after himself (with a whole lot of reminding), my 3 year old loves to dump things out and is terrible about cleaning up.
I recently offered my 7 year old a small allowance for cleaning up after his brother since that is above and beyond what is expected of him. He actually turned me down because he has enough money. Um, OK then. On the one hand, I’m proud to be able to provide for my child. On the other hand, he has sense of entitlement, rather than gratitude.
Clearly my kids are really comfortable with having all of their needs met and don’t understand that they are really fortunate. My kids don’t have the latest, greatest technology, My husband and I don’t even have the newest, best tech toys. However, my kids do eventually get their wants between birthdays, Christmas and rewards for good grades or good behavior. They also have very generous grandparents and uncles who go a little overboard.
It can be hard to appreciate all of the luxuries you have, even for adults, when you are surrounded by other people who are fortunate as well. It seems like there is someone who is doing better than you, has a bigger house or has more stuff.
When my son was in preschool, he attended a school full of upper middle class families. Even though my husband and I are comfortable, we were one of the poorer families, which was ridiculous. We both come from families who struggled financially so we are frugal and try to focus less on things and more on time and experiences.
Most families at the preschool had annual Disneyland passes, while we had only taken our son once in his life. Most of the kids had their own iPad, while we refurbished an iPad my husband found on the street with a cracked screen. Birthday parties were more like a circus than a three year old party.
I couldn’t wait for him to move on to public elementary school where he would be exposed to people from all walks of life. We even opted to send our younger son to a different preschool, where many families attend on scholarship and he attends a class that integrates children with special needs.
There’s nothing wrong with giving your kids luxuries. We give our kids plenty of luxuries. My 3 year old has a Kindle Fire so that the boys don’t have to share tablets. The problem comes when they are so used to getting whatever they want that they take it for granted. The problem comes when they don’t realize how lucky they truly are and assume that they are entitled to everything they own.
So how can you foster gratitude in children who have never had to worry about having their needs met?
Here are small ways we help our kids understand gratitude.
Keep a Family Gratitude Journal
Once a month, my family shares what we are grateful for at dinner. I keep a family journal and write everything down. Sure, my older son says he is grateful for his LEGOS and my youngest says he is grateful for his Paw Patrol toys, but I’m hoping this will eventually help them understand gratitude. Perhaps after regularly hearing their parents say they are grateful for each other, our health, our children, our home, it will eventually click.
Give Back to Others
My kids are more aware of how fortunate they are when they see first-hand how others are struggling. When we started making boxes for Operation Christmas Child, my son finally “got” how lucky he is. He gets a toothbrush whenever he needs one. It isn’t something he has to request for Christmas. Last year, he suggested getting toys that can be fixed easily since the kids who get the boxes probably don’t get a lot of toys so they’ll be sad if their one toy breaks. I’m not going to lie, that melted my heart.
We regularly buy food for our school district’s Backpack Program (families in need take home a backpack full of food on Friday so that they are covered for the weekend). My son understands that there are kids at his school whose parents aren’t able to provide enough food over the weekend. Seeing it first-hand helps him better understand and become more grateful for what he takes for granted.
Cut Back on Rewarding with Things
I have cut back on rewarding my kids with things and now reward them with experiences or time. Since my kids don’t really get excited about money or things because they have so much already, I cu back on that reward method. Instead, we do things like “Family Art Night,” “Movie Night” or “Picnic Lunch.” I also do one-on-one mommy or daddy time, which works particularly well for my older son since his little brother is pretty high maintenance and takes a lot of attention away from him.
Kids learn by example. If we constantly complain about what we don’t have and never express gratitude for what we do have, it’s unlikely that they will. My 7 year old implemented “Mommy Talk Time” every evening as a way to extend bedtime. I’m well aware that of his strategy, but I’m using it as an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with him. He always asks how my day was and my new reply is, “It was great. You and your brother are healthy. Daddy and I are healthy and we have a home that keeps us safe.
He doesn’t understand why I continue to focus on gratitude right now, but it will start to sink in and he will begin feeling that way himself. I hope. Even on a bad day, I tell him we can still be grateful that we woke up this morning, there is a roof over our head and we have food in our bellies.
My children are very fortunate. I understand that and I want them to understand that and do what they can to help those less fortunate. When I was a kid, my parents took us to Mexico regularly to donate our clothes and toys to children in orphanages. My Catholic high school did regular trips to Soup Kitchens and we took trips to Mexico to help build homes.
It instilled a sense of gratitude in me and informs my decisions to donate to particular charitable organizations and volunteer with various organizations. I want to pass that down to my boys and help them remain aware of how fortunate they are to have their basic needs met. I want them to know that it is our job to help and respect those less fortunate and to be grateful for our luxuries.
How do you teach your children about gratitude?