In a world of “I wants” and “Can I haves?” it can be daunting for parents to raise grateful kids.
I get it. As a mom of two boys, I’ve watched and learned (sometimes the hard way) how our society is now seemingly pre-dispositioning kids to feel entitled to have it all, simply because “everyone else does.”
Does having the latest and greatest gadget make them better people? No. But what will is raising them to be grateful not just for what they have, but for the opportunities that are available to them.
With that in mind, here are seven powerful strategies from my new book, The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic — A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World, that will help parents model gratitude in their daily lives and help their kids do the same.
1. Go without a luxury for a week.
When we cater to kids’ every whim, from packing their favorite hard-to-come-by treat in lunches to ensuring they always have the latest smartphone, kids feel entitled to the niceties of life.
To help kids feel grateful for what they have, try doing without. Figure out what your family can do without for a week or a month. Is it eating out? Turning on the TV? Air conditioning? Cutting back on some conveniences may not seem comfortable at first, but it’s a great way to do a family appreciation check for what you do have, and foster empathy for those who do without.
2. Make service part of your schedule.
We all have grand plans to volunteer with our kids, but the reality is that life gets in the way of our good intentions. Like most things in life, unless we put service on the calendar, chances are it won’t get done.
Teach your kids the importance of service by putting it on the calendar — just once a month. Brainstorm activities that feel like a good fit for your family all year around, not just during the holidays. Your kids may enjoy playing board games with nursing home neighbors, making a meal at the Ronald McDonald house, or cleaning up a park. The ideas are endless — and the rewards are life altering!
3. Verbalize the silver linings.
If a long line at the drive-through sends your kids into a tailspin, or if a soccer game getting rained out is “seriously, like the end of the world," then it's time to talk about silver linings.
That means looking for your own silver linings in tough situations and sharing them with your kids. For example, “I have to work Saturday, but the extra income means we can do a little something fun next week.” Or when the thunderstorm kicks up on the way home from the store, “Well, I guess we can cross ‘washing the car’ off the to-do list today!” Finding the lesson, the blessing, or the humor in less than ideal situations will teach your kids to be grateful with whatever life throws their way.
4. Explore the “What if’s?”
One of the most powerful ways to foster an attitude of gratitude is to let your kids explore the realities of those who make do without.
During a family meeting or after your service time, ask your kids the tough “What if…” questions. What if you had to stand in line for a meal? What if you didn’t have a place to sleep? What if you had an illness and couldn’t afford to go to the doctor? Without getting too preachy, explore the “what if’s” and let them discover just how good they have it.
5. Give genuine thanks out loud.
If we expect our kids to live lives steeped in gratitude, we need to step up our game as parents. That means generously thanking everyone who interacts with us in positive ways — from the grocery bagger, to the gentleman who holds the door, to the waiter at lunch.
Use specifics such as, “Hey, thanks for making sure those eggs didn’t go on the bottom of the bag!” Or, the next time you’re at a restaurant and you enjoy great service, take a minute to ask for the manager and let them know your server was terrific. Your kids will be amazed at how one small act can lift someone’s whole day.
6. Make gratitude part of the daily routine.
According to research, grateful people are among the happiest. So make gratitude a staple at your family dining table. Take time at meals to say three things out loud that you’re thankful for. Or, create a gratitude jar and pull from it to help count blessings. With practice, gratitude will eventually become a permanent part of your kids’ attitude.
7. Shift your perspective.
One of my most profound lessons in gratitude was when I learned to stop saying “I have to…” and start saying “I get to…”
For example: “I get to drive my kids to school.” “I get to watch my son play soccer.” This simple tweak will help you remember to be grateful for the little, mundane, sometimes frustrating moments of parenting.
And the best part: by hearing how you get to do all these things with your kids, you’ll be giving them a giant dose of self-worth and teaching them to turn their own “have to’s” into “get-to’s”.