When Push Comes to Love: Teaching our kids gratitude
"My child does not appreciate anything! They have so much more than I ever did and yet they don't appreciate it." I hear this from parents pretty frequently and especially around this time of year. Kids get overstimulated around the holidays and want, want, want. And want some more. This is frustrating for parents, understandably. So how can we teach our kids to appreciate what they have, while maintaining our sanity? It is a multi-step process.
First, it is important for parents to understand that they play a huge role in this. Everyone wants their kids to have "more than" they did as a kid. Why? If you think back to your childhood, was it terrible? Even if there were some difficulties or financial strains, can you say that those experiences didn't teach you and help you become the person you are today? Of course extreme cases are different, but our kids are not guaranteed to have more than we did. It is not their right. What they need to have is enough. Then they can make what they want out of that. So, for starters, parents, think about what is enough. What is enough to make your child happy? Not "super" happy, just happy, because super happy and always entertained is not really a good thing.
Next, realize that appreciation does need to be taught. We may not remember our parents teaching us to appreciate things, but by golly, they did! They had to. That's how it works. I remember having to write thank you notes after a birthday party and thinking, "this stinks." But to this day, I write thank you cards and actually like doing so. Kids aren't necessarily going to like doing those things, but they also may not like doing multiplication, another necessary learning process. So actively teaching appreciation is crucial. Here are some suggestions to do so:
Have your child write thank you notes: Even if you write the note and your child signs it, in crayon, with incorrect spelling, have them do it. It is the principle that we are going for here.
Take time for reflection: At the end of each day talk to your child about their favorite part of the day, and least favorite. Talk about what you are thankful for daily.
Talk to them about your childhood: Let them know about the struggles you experienced. And relate that to people who may have struggles in the present day.
It is important to expose kids to what they do not live for them to really appreciate what they do live. Whenever I suggest this to parents, I get looks. Usually this is because the parents themselves are not comfortable seeing and experiencing things different than what they live. It is an uncomfortable thing sometimes, but so important for us as adults as well. Here are some suggestions for things to do with your kids this holiday season (or all year long) to help them experience differences and hopefully feel thankful and appreciate what they have:
Do volunteer work: Call the local food shelter and see if they need help stocking shelves. Kids can do that kid of work. Have them count all the cans of corn and talk with them about why a food shelter has to be established.
Visit a "Giving Tree" and ask your child to pick a child of their age to buy an item for. It may be a toy or an item of necessity, such as underwear. The important part is that they will need to use their money to do so. Then talk with them about how some kids, their own age, don't have even simple things like a small toy or underwear.
As a family, sponsor another family for the holidays. Call a local agency like Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut or UCFS and ask about sponsoring a family in need. Low on funds yourself? Make the items and have the kids join in the family fun. If you choose to sponsor a family, it is fun to give them a name, since their identity is confidential. Talk about this family as you prepare their gifts. Let them become a part of your family memories.
This can be a stressful time of year. Kids are amped up. Parents are tired. But it is important to capitalize on gift-giving to teach and show appreciation to our kids as well as one another. And remember, less is more.
If you or your family are struggling this holiday season and are in need of assistance please call Infoline at 211 for information about local resources.
Beverly Carr is a Norwich-based clinical social worker. Her column appears monthly in Grace online. Visit beverlycarr.vpweb.com for more information.