Small babies and young toddlers are notorious for their beautiful spirit and infectious joy, which comes from knowing little about the world in which they live. Babies need nothing but love, and the essentials – nourishment, shelter, security. As children grow and learn more about the world throughout the years, they begin to want more than just our love and the essentials. In her book, "Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World", Kristen Welch states, “When our kids begin to expect – even demand – more than our love, that’s when we have a problem. What our culture feels entitled to isn’t just stuff. It’s the desire to fit in, to feel good or happy all the time; it’s the desire for instant gratification and the demand to receive something just because we want it, hard work optional.” In a materialistic world focused on having the latest and greatest, the biggest and best, our children are headed down a dangerous path of being robbed of their joy. Consider this: if a child grows up with the mindset of always needing more, never sitting with contentment, never practicing true gratitude, we are inadvertently telling them that life is meant to serve them. They will be completely unprepared to enter the “real world” where hard work is necessary and important, and things are not handed to them.Children of the “selfie” generation have a completely different view of the world than prior generations; they often place themselves in the center of the universe where their entitlement rises above other needs and priorities. “Kids grow up in a reality-show world, thinking of themselves as the central character on the stage. They have a Facebook page, they are famous in their own minds, they are like rock stars, and to them there is no room (and no need) for true emotional empathy, or self-examination, or personal responsibility. Nor is there incentive or motivation to learn to work. And they think they are entitled not to have limits or boundaries or discipline.” State Richard and Linda Eyre in, "The Entitlement Trap".As a parent, it is so hard to balance the desire to please our children with the need to help our children learn to deal with disappointment. It seems that by giving them gifts and other material things, we are making them happy… but only in the moment. When children are given too much too soon, they will take it, and as a result we build up their notion of what they ought to have… what they are entitled to have. This is a difficult reality to face, because it calls us to focus in on our children’s character, to focus in on how to help our children to be grateful and content, to be happy and joyful without needing “more.” How do we do this? How do we take such a huge task – helping our children be grateful – and put it into practice in our daily lives? Here are three practical ways to help your children feel less entitled and be more grateful:
Place less emphasis on material things
“Research proves there’s a direct link between low self-esteem and materialism. We give our kids more because we think it will make us all feel better, but it actually places a higher value on things than on relationships. And often our kids don’t need more stuff or more freedom; they just need more of us” (Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, p.64).Help children understand the value of their things, by having fewer things. The more items they have, the less likely they are to appreciate and take care of those things. Help children weed through their toys, and donate them to those who are less fortunate. Resist the urge to buy things on a whim, and have children work to earn the money to buy items that they really want. This will help them to see the value of hard work and perseverance, and they will value their things more because they worked for them.
Gratitude is a learned behavior, one that must be modeled for children. How can we expect our children to be grateful, content, and joyful with what they have if we are not modeling those virtues for them? Children need to see us saying, “Thank you,” and being appreciative for what we have. Model that the world is not meant to make us happy all of the time, we need a balance of emotions in our lives so that we can be well-rounded people with a realistic view of the world.
Focus on perspective
For many children, the reason they always want “more” is because they are surrounded by friends and peers who have things that they don’t. “Nothing is more effective at making us grateful than perspective. Nothing. If we are going to compare ourselves to those who have more, we must also compare ourselves to those who have less” (Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World,p. 157-158). Teaching our children about how people live in other parts of the world, and even those less fortunate living here in the U.S., will help them put their lives in perspective and cultivate gratitude in a more meaningful way.