Every year as the holiday season approaches, I hear similar stories from the parents I work with and from friends, "How come my children are ungrateful little brats?" From years of working with parents, I've come to the realization that parents seem to expect their children to be born grateful and with the ability to say things such as, "Parents, I want to take this moment to tell you just how grateful I am for all of your hard work, for the roof over my head, food on the table, clothes on my back and the gifts that I'm about to receive for the holiday season. Since I am filled with such gratitude, I would like to take the rest of my life to thank you appropriately. Let my start by cleaning my room, being nice to my sibling and taking out the garbage without being reminded."
Honestly, if your kids actually said those words to you, I might be a little bit nervous about their emotional stability. Here's the thing parents, children are normally narcissistic and self-centered. I'm sure you were as well and now you have grown into a gratitude machine and you expect the same from your child. Gratitude is not a given, it is developed and grown with love, kindness, and guidance from others. So how can you help your children to be more grateful? Here are a few ideas:
Allow your child to want things. This doesn't mean that you should give them everything they want. In fact, don't. Yet there is no harm in allowing them to express what they want and for you to acknowledge their desires without giving them the "What do you think money grows on trees?" or "Why can't you be grateful for what you have?" speeches. Ask your children why they want something, but ask them with curiosity, not condescension. Have discussions (not lectures) with your children about your own wants and what they mean to you. An example might be sharing with your children that you want a new car that is both better on gas and safer than the one you currently have. Explain to your children that cars are expensive and that parents work hard to own them. Let them know when you feel blessed for all you have both materially and emotionally.
Instead of demanding that your child express gratitude similar to the example above, ask your child to always use the words 'please' and 'thank you'. These are the beginning steps of gratitude. Always saying thank you for things that are given to us such as food placed in front of us, workers who may help us, etc. 'Thank you' should be said as well to teachers and coaches in your children's lives. When my daughter participated in competitive dance, it was required that after each class the girls would wait in line to personally thank their teacher and give her a hug. It was a simple, yet powerful, gesture in looking someone in the eye and expressing simple words of gratitude.
Finally, consistently display gratitude for all that you have in your life. Model it for your children every chance you get. I once taught a parenting class to very low-income parents in an extremely violent community. The parent's constant expression of gratitude for the smallest of gifts, including children who were never incarcerated, was a lesson to me in finding gratitude whenever we can even when times are tough. Do you tell your children how grateful you are for them, for your partner, parents, health, roof over your head, food on your table, a job, an education, etc.? Do it as often as you can. Gratitude is contagious and imitated, you are your child's role model for this wonderful expression of happiness.
Grateful children aren't an oxymoron, yet they seem to be made rather than born. Stay patient when they are a bit more greedy than grateful, and know that with love and compassion your children can actually grow up to be grateful, kind and giving. (Well, at least to everyone who isn't a sibling.)
Join Lisa Kaplin and Bobbi Anderson for a free teleclass: Kids+Money+Holidays=Stress; 3 ways to a peaceful, calm, holiday season. Here's the link to sign up: http://smartwomeninspiredlives.com/events/
You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com
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