One of my biggest challenges as a parent is trying to instill proper morals and good values into my son, who (for this blog) I’ll call “D.” I want him to be kind, caring, humble and thankful. As a parent, one of my biggest responsibilities is to help mold him into his future-self. We so often hear people say that they are the product of how they were raised, so the things that I do or teach him now will directly impact him when he is grown.
While D is fortunate to be growing up in a time where children have so much at their disposal, that can also sometimes be a hindrance. He literally wants for nothing and has everything he could possibly need – attention of both parents, love, food, housing and a boatload of toys. But because he does have all of these things, one quality that I fear him developing is a lack of gratitude. As he gets older, I am making it a priority to teach him how to not take these things for granted.
Now he is still a preschooler so I don’t really expect him to understand completely what it is to be grateful, so I try to teach him with age-appropriate lessons that he is indeed quite fortunate.
To put it into context, my son loves cars. And by loves cars I mean LOVES CARS! From the moment he wakes up until I have to drag him into bed, he spends his time playing with his collection of Matchbox cars. He already has about 10 times the number that I ever had as a kid, and his collection continues to grow weekly. So I literally cringe when we walk by a toy car in a store and he begs for me to buy it.
“But you have so many already!” I exclaim, and I am always answered by the same response. “But I don’t have THIS one.” Then because he knows that I never say no, he gives me the sad eyes and starts pleading with “Please, mommy….oh please!”
And then, like a broken record I find myself repeating the same thing, time after time:
“Why can’t you be happy with the ones you already have. Be grateful that you even have cars. Do you know there are kids out there who don’t even have food, let alone cars!”
As soon as I utter this phrase I realize that it has zero impact on my son, because he doesn’t have a point of reference of what it really means to “go without.” He doesn’t know yet of the world’s suffering and for that I am glad, but it also means that it’s hard for him to be truly thankful for something until he knows what it’s like to miss it.
To help other parents who are also raising the next generation, I have put together some ways that I am trying to introduce the concept of gratitude into our household:
- Make saying please and thank-you mandatory – We started this as soon as D was able to speak. When he asked for something, we required him to say please. When he received it, we asked him to say thank-you. Right now he does it on his own about 50% of the time, and we still remind him the other half. It starts of as just rote repetition, but eventually kids will understand that they actually mean thank-you when they say it. The important concept to remember is that at a young age, you need to be consistent with lessons. If you only enforce it half the time, then you’ll only get back half the effort. And don’t be too hard either – kids will forget. But if they ask you for something without saying please, usually a simple finger pointing to the ear or a “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you?” will remind them that they forgot their kind words.
- Take something that they like to play with away, just for a brief time – Trust me, when you return it to them, they will appreciate it much, much more. Now this one for me, as a parent, is super, super difficult. I am a huge softie and can’t bear to see my son cry, so when I have to be the bad cop I hate it. On one occasion we had to punish D for showing more bad behavior than good, and we told him he couldn’t play with cars for three days. Yes, it was harsh, but when he got his cars back he seemed to appreciate them a bit more, and we haven’t had to punish him since.
Stay tuned for more ways to introduce gratitude into your home!