Raising a grateful child isn’t something you do overnight. In fact, it is a process that is taught to your child until they are grown. Of course, real gratitude goes well beyond the simple “please” and “thank you” that you can very easily teach your child as young as 18 months (earlier in our home). True gratitude goes much deeper. It is a true and real sense of appreciation for others and themselves. But just how do you instill this appreciation in your child? Parenting magazine offers some tips.
How to Handle Your Child’s Ever-Expanding Christmas List
I have one of these in my home – the Christmas list keeps getting bigger and bigger and BIGGER! If you have a child like this, Robert Brooks, Ph.D., psychologist at Harvard Medical School and co-author of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child says to “Emphasize that you appreciate there are many things he wants, but let him know it will only be possible to get a few of them.”
Maureen Healy, author of 365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids says to have him make an equal list of things to do. So, for example, my list writer has 18 items on his list right now; I should have him write a list of 18 things he is willing to do to obtain those gifts. And if buying all of those gifts just isn’t feasible, then let him know that you can’t afford it this year. This comes with a caution though: you should be honest, without scaring your child.
Experts also suggest that you handle the long-term issue to help your child understand that gifts are not just a way to gain material things, but to show gratefulness in the thought put into the gift. One example in how to help your child with this is to point out the thought that went into the gift.
Handling Gift Disappointment
Last year, my oldest said to my parents, “I know you guys didn’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts, so it’s okay that you only got me…” Talk about embarrassed! The truth is that my parents put a lot of thought into the gifts. They got what they thought he would enjoy, and while they may not have known what he really wanted. It’s also very possible that they didn’t have the money to get him what he really wanted because they had nearly 20 grandchildren to buy gifts for. The point is that there was a need for gratefulness here, even if the gift wasn’t really what he wanted.
Bette Freedson of the National Association of social Workers suggests that I can work on a stock line with him to help him better protect the feelings of others. “Thank you!” or “I like it a lot!” were examples given. I could also instruct him to compliment certain things about each gift, even if he doesn’t really like it.
Now, children under the age of five might not be able to effectively suppress their negative feelings to protect someone else’s, but you don’t have to be apathetic to the ungratefulness. Instead, you can prompt your little one into an attitude of gratefulness by saying something like, “Wow, that was so thoughtful, wasn’t it?” when your child gets mittens or pajamas instead of a toy.
To handle this issue in the long-term, experts suggest letting your child know ahead of time that they may not like all of their presents, but that appreciation for the gift and the thoughts of the gift-giver are important. They even suggest setting up a special cue ahead of time to help curb feelings of disappointment.
Handling the Shopping Demands
My long-list guy is also my shopping guy. I dread taking him to the store because he will mention, muse and ask for items all throughout the store, even if I tell him we are only going in for toilet paper. And if you have a child that does this, I am sure you can sympathize with the frustration I go through everytime we go shopping.
Claire Lerner, child-development specialist at Zero to Three says that telling your child that you are only buying this and this. That you should make it clear you aren’t going to buy anything for them, but to not give in to the whining or fits. Saying something like, “I know it’s hard to be here when you’re not getting anything, but that’s the rule.” This might not stop the whining, but it does make your message clear.
What I have started doing, on advisement of a really great friend and therapeutic parent, is I challenge him. I already know that he’s going to ask for things at every turn, no matter what I say ahead of time. So instead of trying to stop the behavior, I actually encourage it. Upon entering the store, I say, “Now, we are only getting toilet paper, but I know you’re going to ask for things, so I bet you can’t ask for ten things before we leave the store.” If I ever forget before we enter the store, then I say it promptly after his first request. This has helped our family dramatically!
Experts also suggest that, as parents, we should try to avoid spending all of our family time in the store. This teaches our children that buying stuff is leisure time. To avoid this, experts say that it is important to make family time outside of the store. Denver mom Beth Korin takes her boys to the library, indoor pools and rock-climbing gyms.
Handling the Forgetful Thank-You’s in Public
I really don’t struggle with this one. Sure, my tots forget to say please and thank-you, but at this age, I understand that the habit takes time to form. I also know that my children shy away from strangers, so if they don’t say thank-you or please, it’s probably more related to their shyness than their manners.
Experts suggest that, instead of pushing the please and thank-you, that you don’t pay it any mind or that you speak for them, gently prompting them to do so. We do this from the time that they are very little. And don’t worry if your child doesn’t mimic you. Just chalk it up to something that they still need to practice. Try not to get upset or push because it can actually hinder the learning process.
“But Everyone Has That”
Again, not something I have had to deal much with and I can’t say exactly why, but I can definitely understand the frustration here. Your child is constantly comparing their possessions to the possessions of others, and even uses it to try and gain leverage in acquiring what they want.
Experts say that you can encourage your child to recognize how much they really have instead of focusing on what they don’t have by taking them along to participate in helping others. You can even introduce them to or talk about others that are less fortunate.
The Most Important Tip of All….
Display gratefulness yourself, especially in front of your children. Even if you detest the adult footy pajamas that your mom thought you would like, find something positive in them and don’t knock it in front of your kids. I have to remind myself constantly that I can’t expect anything from my children that I can’t do myself.
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