A sign hangs in our kitchen that says “Be Grateful.” A simple statement, but loaded with meaning. I search for ways to teach my children gratitude — to prevent their feeling entitled to anything. Thankfully, my children, for the most part, are grateful children. However, moments exist when entitlement consumes them. When that happens, we’ve learned a few ways to deal with the behavior.
We talk about why they think they should get something or go somewhere—or whatever the issue is. Then I usually
go into a long rant about how difficult things were for me as a child tell them stories of how I went without as a child—and survived. Another approach? Pointing out the things they do have. When I am really desperate, I even bring out pictures of children who are actually starving, or wearing plastic bottles on their feet for shoes, or some other extreme reality to make them really think about how “difficult” their life is.
This is my favorite. We have met so many wonderful people this way. Volunteering opens our eyes to real issues—and not the ones we make for ourselves. I try to explain and show them that we create these wants and turn them into needs. When they volunteer, it takes their thoughts away from themselves and moves their energy into filling someone else’s needs. This teaches them most effectively in a way which opens their eyes to their own selfish desires. We have had a variety of volunteer experiences—from sorting and donating food to placing flags in a field to remember our state’s loss of lives in battle to packing shoeboxes for kids in need around the world.
We love to do this around September or October before the craziness of the holidays sets in. Sometimes we put together a quick round up of unwanted clothing, toys, and books in late November. We donate to the local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or any other agency that collects and donates to those in need. As we sift through our belongings, we talk about how we shouldn’t hold on to things we don’t want or need just to have them. Knowing these things go to someone actually in need opens their hearts. Observing the growth of gratitude in my children impresses me so much as their mom.
When in the midst of a particularly difficult argument, I required my eldest to write 100 things in her journal for which she has gratitude. She was on a complaining spree. And I was in the midst of shaming myself for letting it go this far. She came up with 103. Just taking the time to refocus her energy allowed her to reflect and see the wrongness of her behavior. Journaling also helps me to focus on how much we truly do have—and that it isn’t measured by things. For children, this sometimes becomes difficult as every commercial, mall display, and Internet ad tells them they don’t have enough.
November has always been the month that I pause, reflect, and readjust my own feelings of entitlement. I intentionally make my children see the abundance of things they have to be thankful for—especially before the Christmas list falls on my nightstand. We aren’t perfect. But as long a we strive to be thankful, show gratitude to others, and try not forget about those who may have less? We receive the greatest gift of all — gratitude.