Over the past week, I have read two articles about entitlement. It seems to be a concern for upper middle-class families who are very fortunate in life, but don’t want their kids to take for granted all that they have. So, this week I have decided to think about clients of mine who do have a lot, and whose kids are doing well, to answer the question, “How do we raise kids who are grateful?” I think we could all use the reminder.
Ally and Nathan are an intelligent, hardworking, and successful couple who really care about raising kind human beings. Since the day I met them, I found them to be warm and endearing, and could tell that the blessings they have (as they put it) were something that they were well aware could cause issues in raising their kids. Here is what I shared [with them that] seems to be working to instill [gratitude] in their kids.
First, I had Ally and Nathan think about times when they buy things or simply say yes to their kids’ requests [just] because they can. I asked them to set the intention that they would learn to set boundaries around what their kids ask for, even beyond saying no. They started adding phrases into their responses like, “What can you do to earn that?” or “I will consider that for next time?” or “What did you do for someone else today to make their day happier?” By giving them the vocabulary to pause or slow their kids’ desires down, they felt a lot more in control.
“‘What can you do to earn that?’ or ‘I will consider that for next time?’ or ‘What did you do for someone else today to make their day happier?’”
Next, I asked them how they wanted to truly live out this value of gratitude. They said they wanted to help their community and share their talents and gifts. So after talking about it, they started by working on a project in their community that included all the kids. They said that they had done things like donating to charity or the school in the past, but that the kids never really saw that, and it didn’t mean much to the kids personally. By getting involved, in this case, with a homeless shelter for teens, the kids really got to experience helping first hand in a way that was profound for them.
However, most of what parents can do to instill gratitude in their kids doesn’t have to be profound on a daily basis to make a big impact. This family started expressing what they were grateful for often, both out loud and in journal form. I guided them that it didn’t always have to be the big stuff, like gifts, but rather things like their health, clean water, or fresh food. They loved that idea, and once they started doing this, they reported that even if their kids weren’t benefiting, they were!
The kids were also required to go beyond basic manners and give people solid eye contact when they were speaking. They started having the kids handwrite thank you cards and calling, not texting, grandparents. They also allowed more room for their kids to fail or figure things out for themselves. We started to realize that the parents were working so hard to provide a perfect life for their kids, that the kids didn’t have the opportunity to not succeed.
Gratitude starts at home. I urge people to tell their kids their stories of both success and failure, and to express kindness and appreciation daily—it really does go a long way over time.
This post was originally published on drsherylziegler.com.