By Melody M. Ott
LCSW with Wellbeing Collective
Sometimes I worry that I am raising spoiled children.
Especially when they make comments like, “I have to have that”, or “Give me that”, or “I want…”
Kids are bombarded with messages from the media and their peers about what they “just have to have.” With all of these messages coming at our children from every direction, how can we be sure to instill our fundamental values over all the other distractions and noise in their lives?
In our family, one of our core values is that our children be grateful. We want our children to be grateful for the things they have and to have a spirit of giving to others.
A study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that nurturing a spirit of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent. It can also cause individuals to live happier, more satisfied lives and enjoy increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy and optimism.
Other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. Not only does an “attitude of gratitude” help our children to have a more positive outlook, but it helps them to have regard for others and allows them to be less self-centered.
How do we instill gratitude in our children? Here are a few ideas:
Talk about it!
Spend time each day talking about your blessings. One thing our children do every night as part of evening prayer time is to list the things and people they are grateful for that day. You would be surprised at what they take notice of and what is meaningful to them.
Be a family of givers.
Each birthday we ask our children to choose a charity to which they would like to donate money. Because we live in a materialistic society, my children have just about every toy and gadget known to children around the world. (I hate to admit it, but they are quite spoiled!) They don't need a new toy from Target or a new game. They do not need a gift card! So we invite their friends to donate the money they would've spent on a gift to the charity of our children's choice.
Another avenue for giving in our family comes during Christmastime. I don't know about you, but at Christmastime, I feel like there are one million gift exchanges! I don't even know who I am buying gifts for anymore! So, occasionally I will give someone the gift of chickens! Yes, I just said chickens - or maybe a goat! There are so many organizations that offer options of buying a particular item on behalf of a family or for a family (hence the chickens and goat for families in Haiti or other third-world countries). They even have catalogues so kids can see pictures and make choices.
Another fun idea is starting a blanket drive during the holidays to give to the poor and homeless. I am so proud of the Girl Scout troupe at my children’s school who has opened a blanket-making activity to the entire school. All of the children will make their own tied fleece blanket and donate them to the local homeless coalition.
Serve those less fortunate.
Go to the local food pantry or soup kitchen. Do not just show up to serve the poor at the soup kitchen, but engage the residents in conversation. Remind your children that just because people have less doesn’t make them less. Human dignity is something we all deserve.
Encourage an “attitude of gratitude” among siblings and family members.
Siblings fight, let’s face it, but when we model gratitude toward our spouse or our children, it rubs off. Noticing when someone does the dinner dishes, or puts the toilet seat down (a miracle in my house of boys!), or says something kind creates an atmosphere of gratitude, and it is contagious! Praise your children when you recognize their positive attitude or when they offer a compliment to a sibling.
Allow children to earn what they receive.
Offering children an opportunity to work toward a toy or game is a wonderful way to remind them that they cannot just have anything they desire (contrary to what Grandma says). Earning their things makes them special and meaningful. It reminds children that hard work pays off and instills a strong work ethic. Develop a list of chores that each have a specific monetary value associated, and allow children to choose chores when they want to earn something.
Get children involved in the decisions about giving.
At my house we are inundated with toys and trinkets. I don't know if you find yourself wading through thigh high toys every week, but the holidays are a wonderful time to purge. This is no easy task, and I wish my children could do it by themselves, but they typically need my guiding hand. If I didn't help, they would keep everything! Through purging, you can discuss with your children the different places that they would like to donate those toys. Do you have a physical therapist or occupational therapist friend who could use some of the smaller toys for the children that they work with? Is there a local children's shelter that could use some nice toys? Make a list with your children before the purge; encourage them to think about where they would like to donate their toys. When we discuss with our children and allow them to plan, gives them some ownership of the giving.
Are you volunteering? Maybe you volunteer at your child’s school or teach at vacation bible school or Sunday school. You might coach their sport’s team. You may serve at your local soup kitchen or with Habitat for Humanity from time to time. There are so many opportunities to serve as an individual and as a family. Even though you are busy, find small ways to incorporate service into your life and model giving of yourself to your children.
Once you have established the values for your children, you can start planning purposefully for that development and growth. When we have a plan, our focus and direction gives us a barometer from which to measure our success and the success of our children. When we focus on gratitude, our children begin to see beyond themselves and their desire for their things, and they begin to see a bigger world where others are in need and where others have much less than what they have.
We all have an obligation to make this world a better place. Giving, gratitude, thanksgiving are one of the many avenues through which we can change the world! Allow gratitude to create your happy attitude!