It has been birthday season around our house the past couple of months, and with Christmas right around the corner, my husband and I are starting to hear a lot of “I want”s and “I need”s and it doesn’t jive with how we want to raise our children.
I don’t think many of us are born with an attitude of gratitude, but rather it is developed with practice and regular application. To avoid raising a generation of entitled kids we need to teach our children how to be thankful and to express their gratitude often.
Here are a few ideas we’ve applied in our home, and continue working on to prevent selfishness and greediness.
1. Create Service Opportunities
Looking for ways to help others is one of the best ways to find gratitude for what you’ve been given and stop focusing on what you think you are missing. These don’t have to be grand, intricately detailed service experiences, we frequently take a plate or two of cookies to neighbors we’ve been thinking about. We also have fun raking neighbors leaves or even just pulling their garbage cans up to their garage. There’s a great quote I heard from one of my church leaders: “First observe, then serve.” (Linda K. Burton, October 2012 General Conference, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) When we teach our children to look for others who need help and then serving them, we are helping avoid selfishness.
2. Write Thank-you Notes
At my son’s last birthday party he had about 20 guests. That’s a lot of presents, and thereby thank-you cards. But over the course of about a week (he’s doesn’t write very quickly) he completed a thank-you card for every gift he received, and we delivered those thank-you cards. He wasn’t thrilled about writing all those, but he did remember how much he enjoyed playing with each present he got, and it provided us an opportunity to list several blessings he had that are overlooked. We talked about how lucky he is to have so many friends and family close by, how lucky he is to have so many new toys, how lucky he is that he can read and write, and that he has both his hands and all his fingers to be able to write. I’m sure there were a few more blessings we could have mentioned, but I wanted him to recognize and recount on his own.
3. Help Them Think to Thank
Around our dinner table we’ve started the tradition to talk about the best parts of our days. We take turns talking about what our favorite parts of the day were, and why those parts made us happy. Then we talk about what we are thankful for. I love this tradition because it helps all of us remember that even really yucky days can have rainbows and sunshine. It helps end the day on a positive note so tomorrow can start with sunshine. When we think about what we are thankful for we recognize more of what we have been blessed with.
4. Set the Example
Yes, I know, I think every parenting tips and tricks post mentions setting an example, leading by example, being the best example. I don’t know how to be a parent without setting an example. Regardless of my actions (good or bad) my son follows my lead. How can I expect my children to do something I don’t do myself? My husband and I try to thank each other for any service the one provides the other. My husband always thanks me for making dinner, and I do the same when he makes dinner. He then encourages our oldest to thank me for making dinner. When my oldest helps me out I make sure to thank him for his help, and he beams when I’ve recognized his attempts.
5. Make Donations
In January every year, we feel overrun with toys and clothes. My mother-in-law has a generous heart… Instead of piling toys upon toys, and creating that scene from Toy Story 3 (where they all feel so neglected because they never get played with), we go through the toy piles and clothes piles and determine which ones we can part with. Those that haven’t been played with for a year (or so), or clothes that no longer fit, but are in good condition, we donate. We will donate to the local thrift stores or homeless shelters. This helps kids understand that not everyone is as fortunate, and we need to be kind and extend a helping hand.
Some other ideas:
*Serve at a soup kitchen
*Organize a food drive or toy drive in your neighborhood
*Write letters or send packages to military personnel
How do you help your children be less selfish? What are some of your favorite service activities as a family? We love hearing about what works in your family!