“Little brats, they sure don’t appreciate anything!”
How many times have you said this about your children? You know the drill, you work extra hours at work to afford them something they really want. When you finally give it to them, they are happy and excited. Two weeks later, the I-pod or the Four Wheeler is sitting outside about to get rained all over. And when you ask your child to go and put it up, they respond with an arrogant, irritated, and disrespectful grunt that rattles you to your soul.
“How can they be so ungrateful, especially when I do so much?” you ask yourself? And you remember back to your own childhood when your parents were much less concerned about your happiness, uninterested in filling your room with the latest and greatest stuff and unwilling to cart your butt all over God’s creation for softball games. Yet you wouldn’t dare have spoken to your parents the way your children talk to you. Likely, you still remember that one special Christmas present, or that one exciting vacation you took to Space Camp with your family that totally rocked your world. You remember how excited you were, and how appreciative you were. Why can’t your kids be just a little more like that, you wonder.
Nearly every parent today realizes at some point that they are raising ungrateful children. The world has changed and the children have changed with it. As much as you would like to grab your kid by the hair and show the how ‘things used to be’ you have to take a step back and realize that largely (and likely) it is YOUR fault! (Sorry mom and dad) Plus, kids today are growing up in a society that is extremely self indulgent, needy, and selfish. Very few of us, adult, or children – know what its like to go without!
The first thing that parents need to realize is that raising a grateful child is not about raising a child with manners. A child that says, ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ is not necessarily grateful. Enter an elementary classroom and whether it is kindergarten or 5th grade, there will be plenty of spoiled rotten brats that say, ‘thank you!’ Enter these same classrooms during the Christmas party where kids anonymously exchange gifts and you will likely hear 30 thanks you followed by, 25 ungrateful responses about the presents that they received. “But Bobby got a race car and all I got was a stupid book!” Then of course, mom or dad is there wincing and pouting - completely disparaged that their child actually said that! “How ungrateful?”
Children enter this world seeing it as a personal playground. Why shouldn’t they? From the time they are born, they are put on a pedestal and their every whim and desire or fart, sniffle and giggle is met with empowering smiles and laughter. These same kids grow up, and one day far too many parents just expect them to realize that others exist. Call it a work in progress or whatever you want, but learning how to be grateful takes time. It isn’t something that punishment, guilt or reprimand can teach…because it comes from within.
As the adult in the house, it is important to realize that complaining about your ungrateful brat isn’t going to change things. Robert Brooks, the award-winning author of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child, encourages parents to help children set expectations. For instance, if your child wants a major birthday party that seems more like an event than something appropriate for an 8-year-old, force them to pick and choose what they really want! And set parameters. For instance, tell your child that they can invite 5 people, and give them a choice between two party venues. The next step is to ask them what they are willing to do to help. This isn’t the whole, “If you act good, I will buy you a toy,” method of encouraging grateful behavior through bribery. Instead, you are setting limits, helping your child understand that high expectations will not always be met, and giving them an opportunity to appreciate the things they do get and have. If your son wants to invite a 6th friend, try to come up with a compromise such as - the 6th friend can come, but you won’t be doing party bags for the guests. If you just constantly give in to their pleas because you feel guilty – you aren’t encouraging them to be grateful.
It is also very important for parents to be honest with children. Okay, not so honest that you make them fearful they will lose their home or be eating potatoes for dinner every night because finances are tight. But honest about money in general. Make sure they understand how much things cost. Say, “Your mom/dad had to work 5 hours in order to buy you this bike.” This helps children realize that money certainly doesn’t grow on trees. One example to help young children understand the affects of supply and demand in the family financial situation is to use a pie. Slice off portions of the pie that go toward electricity, groceries – and give them a physical symbol of what is left. This way, they become realistic and are able to see that there are priorities in life, aside from simply fulfilling their desires. Plus, it helps them to ‘see’ that the extra piece of pie often goes towards their clothes, toys, wants and desires.
Parents also often forget to talk about their own wants with their children. Children need (must) understand that there are things you desire, but do not have. And they also must see you indulging yourself every once in a while, even if it does mean your child cannot have the $350 bike they saw at Wal-Mart. When your child can feel good that mom got the new necklace, or dad got the new weed eater – they learn to feel happy for other people and are less likely to remain self-absorbed. Especially when they see the people they love excited or happy.
Encouraging your children to save money is another way to make them grateful. If they want something, make a deal with your child that they have to earn at least half of the cost. You will be surprised how quickly children tend to reconsider their desires when the ramifications affect their own piggy bank.
More than that however, is to raise children who are empathetic towards others. For instance, if your child is baulking about the ‘stupid book’ they got in the Christmas party trade, remind them that they got a gift. And remind them that their attitude may hurt the feelings of the person who gave them the gift. Explain to them the concept that it is the thought that counts. If the behavior keeps up, then donate the book and allow them to feel what it is like with nothing.
Perhaps the most important aspect of raising grateful children, and turning your ungrateful little brats into appreciative and respectful kids is to mirror the behavior that you want to see. Be grateful. When you go and get gas, be thankful that you had the $65 to fill up your tank. Try to show your kids that the simple things in life…well, they are free. Appreciate your time together and make sure that you are a living example to your kids about gratefulness for both the things and the people in your life. Helping children realize that they are not the center of the universe is painstaking; especially when most parents WANT to make sure their child has everything they want. Unfortunately, that ‘everything’ you want to give – will leave your child with nothing in their heart if it continues unchecked.