Wednesday, 25 January 2012 00:00

Encouraging Kids to Have an Attitude of Gratitude

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You’ve saved and planned and packed and prepared.  You’ve worked so hard to take your kids on a fantastic journey to (insert coveted vacation spot) and the kids are fighting. Complaining about the food. Whining about the long lines. Sound familiar?

First, you’re not alone. There is nothing more frustrating than facing the cold hard reality of parenting – your kids don’t always appreciate your efforts.  In your mind you’re thinking:  These kids don’t know how good they have it!  I never went to (insert name of money-draining amusement park) when I was a kid!  My parents never asked where we
wanted to go for dinner!!  Why are my kids so ungrateful? 

Don’t worry – it’s not just your kids.  It feels like it sometimes, but my mother’s intuition tells me it’s just one more thing on the long list of values we have to make efforts to teach.  (As if we don’t have enough to do!)

We all want our kids to be grateful for the many opportunities, choices and gifts we lovingly give to them.  But the truth is most kids don’t really understand the impact of said blessings without some serious training.  And it takes time.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you thank your mom for buying you those trendy tennis shoes you just had to
have?  Did you thank your dad for taking you to the championship ball game? Probably not without some coaching.

But don’t worry. They’ll thank you in another 20 or so years when they have their own
brood to wrangle.  You can wait that long, right?

A lot of people might look around and say that “kids today” have too much – that we’ve spoiled them. But I think every generation looks to the one coming up as engaging in
more excess than the last – even during an economic downturn.  Now it’s our turn to sound like our own parents, “Why - when I was a kid, we ate what was put in front of us and we were happy to have food!”  Yes – we say this but the reality is that we sulked and moaned and complained back then too. ‘Fess up!

We want to give our kids the best – a good education, activities, games, toys and experiences that enrich their lives.  But instilling gratitude takes practice.  Here’s my advice for what it’s worth:

Adjust your expectations. Like I said, junior will thank you in about 2 decades.  Stay healthy so you’re around to enjoy the accolades!  Until then, remember to plant seeds of gratitude; one day, they’ll bear fruit.

Require thank you cards.  Part of gratitude is awareness. When your child sits down to write a real live (paper!) thank you letter for Grandma’s check, you’re reinforcing for her the message that we shouldn’t take gifts for granted.  Oh, they’ll complain.  Hold your ground.  Have fun! Dig out some decorative paper and put music on.

Encourage giving.  Point out to your kids that not everyone in the world enjoys three meals a day, new clothes and piles of piles of games.  Ask kids to choose a few toys each year to donate to a local charity.  Scan the web or your local paper for a story about someone in need, and ask your child to donate some of his or her own money to the cause.

With time and maturity, your kids will surprise you one day when the message really resonates with them. This Christmas, when I explained to my son it may look like he has less gifts under the tree because his were more expensive, he told me he’d be grateful for anything, because so many other kids in the world had nothing.  Gulp.

And for that comment I was very, very grateful.

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