Growing up, I felt like I had everything I needed – and really everything I wanted, too. I didn’t get a new BMW for my 16th birthday (but I was given a sweet 7-year-old Chevy Cavalier that I cruised around town in!), nor did I have the birthday parties with live ponies or anything of the like, but we definitely weren’t struggling to pay the bills. My parents always made sure I had what I wanted within reason, and I knew not to ask for or expect a lot. I realized how hard my parents worked for what we had. I knew that it took time and hard work to make money, and I couldn’t just sit back and expect my parents to buy me the hottest new Guess jeans or No Fear shirt. They were busy teaching kids gratitude.
There were many years I worked odd jobs, starting the summer before 8th grade. My cousin and I went door-to-door in my grandparent’s neighborhood offering babysitting services (This was during The Babysitter’s Club era. I wanted to be Dawn or Stacey!). So starting at the age of 13, I was a babysitter. Through my high school years (mostly during the summers) you could call me a cashier (McDonalds), a cook (Pizza Hut), and I also worked the concession stand at our local sports complex and the front desk of a workout center. I had all those jobs simply by choice, but my parents never once had told me I had to work. I kept busy as a cheerleader and was a pretty good student and my parents (I think) realized that you’re only young once. I was certainly lucky. No one ever wagged their finger at me and lectured about money. Never was I told it “doesn’t grow on trees.” Like most of my friends, I took the initiative to go out and apply for jobs. I wanted to have my own money and didn’t want to have to ask for cash to go to the movies or buy a new shirt. Plus, I enjoyed the sense of responsibility and the satisfaction holding a job gave me.
In college, I let myself get a bit carried away and developed poor spending habits. With the unrealistic yet all too common expectations of a high paying job post graduation day, I got a little charge-card-happy and didn’t stick to a budget. The years immediately following graduation were spent paying back my debt and helped me truly realize that you need to spend less money than you make. Period. It’s really a simple concept, yet something so many of us struggle with. Keeping up with the Joneses is a serious problem in America. (Insert kids feeling entitled to nice possessions, trips and fancy weddings.)
It is unfortunate that so many kids (and adults) today feel they’re entitled to things. Whether it’s something as simple as a fancy car to drive their prom date around or cash to fund their senior spring break, there’s this belief that it’s something they deserve. What so many don’t realize is that these are all luxuries. Sure, I want my kids have nice clothes, we want to take some family vacations and intend to help them as much as possible with funding their college education. I just don’t want them to ever think they “deserve” it. I want to be teaching kids gratitude so they can be thankful for all they have.
Here are habits and tips my husband and I have implemented into our daily lives on our quest in teaching kids gratitude:
teaching kids gratitude
The more you give kids, the less they appreciate it.
Gratitude is a tricky concept when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers who are self-centered by nature. They want everything and that’s totally normal. It’s necessary to help children learn gratitude so they become sensitive to others’ feelings, develop empathy and many other life skills. Kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up being perpetually disappointed. Kids who are taught gratitude report higher levels of happiness and optimism, and lower levels of stress later in life.
Practice gratitude daily.
Remember to say please and thank you. When your kids are small, you can remind them
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gently. It’s never too early to start. Also, use please and thank you when you talk with your children, your spouse and the kind person who opened the door for you at the store. They’ll learn it firsthand from you, so practice good manners and they’ll learn them, too. I say please and thank you countless times throughout our day, and let me tell you – my kids say it, too. Even my 1-year-old who doesn’t have the basics of language mastered yet makes an attempt to say thanks.
Make gift-giving fun.
To help minimize the all-about-me attitude, let kids get involved when it comes time to give presents to others. Take your kids out to the store and remind them they can help pick out a gift for your friend or loved one. You can even give them the money to hand the cashier. If you aren’t going the store-bought gift route, save cash and give a meaningful present that you and your kids make yourself. Make them a part of wrapping the gift and don’t forget to remind them that the present is a secret. My kids love to give gifts! They get so excited to hand over presents to their loved ones.
Prior to Christmas or a birthday, we sort through our toys and find some we can donate to charity. At 1 and 3 years, my kids don’t really understand the entire concept but will soon enough. They help clean the gently used toys, and we bag them up and head off to our local Goodwill store. Not only can we share toys we loved with other kids who will do the same, we also make room for a couple new toys and say good-bye to toy overpopulation.
Remind our children why we work.
As my husband runs upstairs after lunch, my kids often want to follow him and ask where Dada is going. See, my husband works from home in an upstairs bedroom. When my kids get upset that daddy comes and goes during the day (I’m starting to think we need a separate entrance to his office from the outside of our house!) I remind them that daddy is working to help pay the bills and make sure we have a nice house to live in and yummy food to eat. It’s essential that kids realize from the start that money isn’t something you’re simply given. It’s compensation for hard work.
Life doesn’t always go exactly as planned and we don’t get every single thing we want. Even as an adult, we have to be patient and save our money for the new pair of boots we saw in the store window or that dream trip to Hawaii. But we can lead by good example to ensure we are teaching kids gratitude for all they do have, instead of dwelling on what they don’t. After all, I had lots of great birthday celebrations, and even though I never rode a live pony around my yard, I’m all right.
How are you teaching kids gratitude in your home?
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