WT 135: How Do I Teach My Kids Gratitude?
Question 1: My husband and I are very aware of the entitlement epidemic in our culture and make a conscious effort to combat it in our home. We try not to keep our kids' material possessions to a minimum and make a point to emphasize gratitude. Still, this seems to be a struggle for our five-year-old son. He always wants MORE - more treats, more toys, more TV time, more trips to the park- and is prone to throwing tantrums when he doesn't get his way or literally telling us "it’s not enough" when we remind him of the good things he DOES have. I find myself getting angry at his ingratitude, but mostly I worry that he will struggle with contentment with this attitude. And I worry that we are feeding into this despite our best efforts to the contrary. We WANT our children to have good things (within reason), and as a "quality time" person, I particularly value special experiences with my family, but I wonder if I am doing too much and contributing to his discontent when things aren't "fun." How do I strike a balance?
Karen's Answer: This is a REAL life situation! Here is the deal, in life we all have to learn to be content. Your five year old is learning it early. I don’t know the details of everything, but I understand his age, because my granddaughter is 5 and I can see this need for greed in her, as it is in all of us, and I think the best thing to do is throttle back. BIG TIME! For example, our family got into the habit of eating out all the time, and I do mean ALL the time. It was when our kids were in elementary and middle school and it just was a season where it was easier to eat out. During this time, my kids were fussing and fighting on where to go to eat, never being able to agree on anything and the ones that didn’t get their way were in bad moods. Greg and I decided to stop the madness and we only ate out once a week. When we implemented that and stuck to it, not only did our children become more grateful, they were very quick to agree on places to eat. I would cut way back!!!! Tell your son, that until you start seeing a thankful heart with what he has and a generous heart towards others, he isn’t going to be getting anything new for a while. Even at Christmas. Limit him. Also, do things as a family that serve others, do “fun” things that don’t cost anything like hiking, bike rides, playing a game, watching a movie. Choose a simpler way of life. Let your motto be Less is Best!
Question 2: I’ve heard you speak before on the podcast about envy/jealousy when sisters in law and other extended family members buy their kids more expensive items. What about the opposite problem? My husband and I come from very humble backgrounds, and we’ve both worked hard to develop professional careers. Although we are not wealthy per se, we are significantly better off than our siblings. We just had our first child, and now we often feel extremely guilty that we are able to buy more than the economy line car seat and other basic baby items while our siblings cannot do the same for their children. How do we handle the guilt? And better yet, how do we keep our baby from growing up with a feeling of entitlement or from becoming a snob?
Karen's Answer: It is 100% okay to buy nice things for your child. If you are working hard and have the money, to buy the things you want, DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. How do you not teach your child to be a snob or entitled? Honestly, that is a lot of teaching from you and the attitude you and your husband have. Always let your child “see” you being generous with your money and your time. Teach the concept that God gives it all to us and we want to share. I grew up in an affluent family, but I honestly never knew it. I remember asking my dad once how much money he made and he said, “It is no concern to you, and you don’t need to worry about that.” It wasn’t until I was married did I realize how comfortable we really were. So, it can be done. When you feel guilty, ask yourself the question, “Am I committing a sin?” If you are not sinning, don’t feel guilty.
Question 3: My daughter’s best friend’s family is close family friends of ours so we are constantly seeing into each other’s world. They have a fun/busy life, always going and doing with lots of friends. We are much more of a balance of family time, down time and some friends kind of family. My daughter feels disappointment because of her constant comparison of what her friend is doing and what we are not doing. In return, I feel her disappointment and find myself comparing. How do you instill balance?
Karen's Answer: Once again, it is lots of conversations with your child. My son was this same way! He had a best friend that was one of four boys, and their house was much cooler and more fun than ours. I would tell Taylor constantly, “I know their house is cool and there is a lot to do, just be happy you have friends that have cool stuff.” I also went through this with all my children in different areas, so take heart it’s not just you. ☺ Once again, contentment is a learned behavior. Lots of stories in the Bible where some had more and others had less, Paul says, in Phil 4:11, I have learned to be content in all circumstances.
Question 4: My teenage son is never satisfied for long with the “things” he has. His phone, his car, the game system at our house. Every time he gets something, there’s someone else at school who has a better whatever it is within a few weeks. It makes me so angry I just want to take all of his things away! Is that the answer? How do I teach him to be grateful for what he has!?
Karen's Answer: “\Don’t you want to say, “welcome to life son!” Honestly, I wouldn’t take things away but I would for sure STOP buying him things, and let him do that. Other than birthday and Christmas, I would not buy him one thing, and when he complains, I would say, “Get a job and buy it!” That will hush him up. ☺Stop buying him things, and let him fend for himself. Abby bought her own ipad when she was in middle school bc I wasn’t going to buy it. All my children bought their own computers in college, Taylor got a job and started buying his golf items he wanted. The list goes on. Hang in there mom.
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