While children from affluent homes have many advantages, they are at risk of developing two serious afflictions – entitlement, and lack of gratitude. I worry about this myself as I watch my young kids play on their iPads after coming home from the swimming pool and before heading off to dinner in a nice restaurant and maybe a movie.
My wife and I know we have to work at keeping our four boys grounded. That’s why Amy McCready’s book The Me, Me, Me, Epidemic caught my eye. She offers some great advice on how to teach your kids gratitude, mostly through simple changes in how you interact with your children — and others. Here are just a few ideas:
1. Give thanks out loud.
Thank the people you interact with during the day. The grocery bagger, the drive-up clerk at Starbucks, the trash man, or the plumber who opened that drain. Let your kids hear you offer effusive and specific praise. “Wow, thanks for coming out and clearing that clog so quickly! We’re having people over for dinner. You’re a life saver!” The kids will quickly see how such positive feedback can make a person’s day.
2. Plan to give back.
Decide with the kids where your family will do volunteer work — and write it on the calendar. I’m guessing most parents talk at some point about doing community service, but unless you prioritize and commit to giving back, those best intentions go nowhere. Make this a recurring activity, not just a holiday season box-tick. You can do it once a month, even once a quarter, at the location of your choice – senior center, pet rescue, soup kitchen. But make sure your kids see that you value service enough to put it on the schedule.
3. Express gratitude daily.
Come up with a way for you and the kids to share their thankfulness out loud every day. One idea: Every night at the dinner table each family member can list three things they are thankful for that day.
4. Skip a luxury.
Pick something the family enjoys, but perhaps takes for granted, and ditch it for a week or month. TV? Dessert? Eating out? Air conditioning? Whatever you eliminate, rest assured the kids will develop a new appreciation for it. They may also better understand the true meaning of “necessity” and develop empathy for those who lack true necessities, let alone enjoy luxuries.
5. Accentuate the positive.
Look for the upside in less-than-ideal situations. If you get caught in hideous traffic on the way home, don’t let the kids hear you complain. Instead say, “It wasn’t bad. It was kind of nice, really. I had some quiet time to think, and a chance to call grandma and talk to her for a good long while.”
6. Discuss what-ifs.
Look for opportunities to discuss what it would be like to be in more difficult circumstances. What if you didn’t’ have enough food every day? Or didn’t have a home? Or got sick and couldn’t afford a doctor visit? You don’t want to be scary or preachy, but if you get the timing right, this will be a powerful tool for helping kids appreciate what they have and develop empathy for those who lack the basics.
7. Change YOUR perspective.
McCready says her own mindset changed for the better when she learned to stop saying, “I have to” and start saying, “I get to.” As in, “I get to drive my kids to school.” Or, “I get to watch my son’s soccer practice.”
That tweak helps you appreciate the routine, mundane moments that make up so much of life with your child – a life you will miss when they leave the nest as grateful, giving young adults.