Parenting Solutions: Ungrateful (page 4)
Is unaware of or insensitive to simple gestures of generosity, financial support, or kindness; is unappreciative of what he has; needs constant reminders to say thank you; is oblivious of simple everyday joys
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns habits that nurture gratitude, appreciation, and charity, and becomes more appreciative of his everyday blessings that surround him.
Question: "I try to give our son everything he needs, but instead of being grateful, he only seems to want more. Is there something I can do to help him be more appreciative?"
Answer: Kids' spirits of gratitude are developed through real experiences that help them see how appreciative others are for his kind gestures. So put away that wallet and find opportunities for your child to give to others so that he can feel and appreciate the recipient's gratitude. He might take homemade cookies to a nursing home, rake leaves for an elderly neighbor, deliver children's books to a pediatric ward, visit a lonely relative or friend. Insist that at least one day a week, your child is the giver instead of the getter. That one little switch may do wonders for raising his gratitude quotient.
Of course we want our kids to be happy, and we like being able to give them what they want. But have you noticed that sometimes our best intentions backfire? Instead of our kids being grateful for what they are given, they are disappointed, or always seem to want "more"? In all fairness, there are a number of factors that work against our kids' being appreciative of the good things in life. For starters: relentless consumption-driven media that push kid to think they need more; a fast-paced lifestyle that leaves little time to help kids count their blessings; and the sometimes overwhelming impact of troubling news that focuses on the bad parts of life instead of helping kids appreciate the good. Or sometimes it's our guilt for not being home enough or our competitive instincts that compel us to keep up with the Joneses that drive us to lavish our kids with the latest and best of everything.
University of California at Davis and University of Miami:
Researchers find that being thankful may be the key to increasing your child's happiness and well-being.93 You read that correctly. For the past ten years, two professors, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, studied several hundred people who were involved in their simple gratitude experiments. One ten-week study asked the participants to use a journal four days a week to write down five things they were grateful for that had happened in the previous week. A second group of participants was asked to list ways they were better off than others as a way to appreciate their blessings. The psychologists then looked at medical and psychological tests of each participant prior to the study and then again ten weeks later. Those simple gratitude exercises made those participants feel 25 percent happier. But that's not all: they felt better about their lives, slept better, and felt healthier and less stressed; they were also more optimistic about the future, less materialistic, and more likely to help others. Those results were not hard to achieve. Better yet, you can help your child reap similar benefits just by encouraging him to use some of the gratitude rituals listed later in this entry.
Whatever the cause, there is one crucial reason we must change for our kids' sake. Compelling research now proves that the happiest children are the ones who feel a sense of appreciation for life—and that's regardless of their wealth or personal circumstances. Those studies show that because kids feel grateful, they are actually more joyful, determined, optimistic, and resilient; less stressed; and even healthier. So if you hope your child can achieve these traits (and what parent doesn't), then you must replace any hint of an ungrateful attitude with gratitude. The good news is that there are also simple proven strategies to make that change happen for your child.
One Simple Solution
Writing thank-you notes is a simple, proven way to boost gratitude, but to help your kids understand that you expect them to use that practice, enforce one simple family rule: "You must write the thank-you note first, and then you may use the gift." A young child can dictate his comments and only needs to sign his name. School-age kids should use this rule from the Etiquette and Leadership Institute in Athens, Georgia: the total number of sentences in a thank-you note should be half the child's age.94 So a ten-year-old should be expected to write a minimum of five complete sentences.
Signs and Symptoms
Here are the top nine symptoms of ingratitude in kids. Every kid slips every now and then, but how many signs are typical of your child's daily behavior?
- Bad manners: needs constant reminders to say thank you or show his appreciation
- Envy: wants what others have, envies others' possessions
- Lack of appreciation: takes for granted your daily kind and thoughtful gestures
- Huge sense of entitlement: feels he deserves to have luxuries or privileges
- Dissatisfaction: always seems to want "more," "better," or "newer"
- Materialism: values only material things, brand names, or the "latest"
- Self-centeredness: is unwilling to reciprocate with gifts or kind acts to others
- Ungraciousness: acts disappointed with presents, blurts out "I didn't want this"
- Thoughtlessness: doesn't consider other person's feelings or the thought or effort that went into her gesture
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Model gratitude. Kids learn gratitude by seeing others display appreciation in everyday, unplanned moments. How often do your kids see you convey your appreciation with hugs, words, or small notes to others? How often do you tell your kids how much you appreciate them? Tune up your attitude of gratitude so that your kids are more likely to copy your example.
- Set limits. Having too much "stuff" squelches appreciation. So fight the tendency to overindulge your child with too many things. Always giving kids what they want does not help them learn to be grateful and appreciative of what they have.
- Thank your kids. Don't overlook your kids' daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so that they are more likely to copy your example and send their own "appreciation messages" to others. "Josh, thanks for remembering to take out the trash. I appreciate your helpfulness." "Thanks for giving me a moment alone, Hannah. I had a hard day, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness."
- Teach gratitude with books. Here are a few great books to start that discussion: For younger kids: Yes, Please! No, Thank You! by Valerie Wheeler and Glin Dibley; Emily's Magic Words: Please, Thank You, and More, by Cindy Post Senning, Peggy Post, and Leo Landry
- Expose your kids to the less fortunate. Face-to-face experiences can go a long way in helping kids appreciate their blessings. So find ways for you and your child to do charitable work (playing with kids in a homeless shelter, reading to the blind, building low-cost housing, or delivering meals for the bedridden).
For older kids: Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message, by Jake Swamp; Lady in the Box, by Ann McGovern; The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein; Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation, by Mike Robbins; Gratefully Yours, by Jane Buchanan
Step 2. Rapid Response
- Use gratitude reminders. Have your kids make notes, pictures, or posters or just leave Post-its in visible places around your home to remind everyone to pause and be grateful. There is truth to that old adage, "The more you see it, the more you do it."
- Make them say thank you. Parents who raise grateful kids don't do so by accident. They expect their kids to be appreciative, and require their children to say thank you from the time the kids learn to talk. Keep in mind that kids may need constant reminders: "Did you remember to thank Jeff's mom?" And don't overlook their slips: "You can call to thank her when you get home."
- Help imagine the recipient's feelings. One way to help stretch your child from "me" to "you" is through role playing. Suppose your child just sent a thank-you card to his aunt for the birthday present he received. Use it as an opportunity to help him recognize his aunt's feelings when she receives the card by having him pretend to be the recipient. "Pretend you're Aunt Jo opening up her mailbox and finding this card. How will you feel when you read what your nephew wrote?"
- Understand the emotion behind the gesture. A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they're really thanking the person not for the gift but the thoughtfulness behind it. "Grandma thought a lot about what to give you this year." "Mark went to five stores to try to find what would make you happiest." Keep reinforcing the thought that went into the purchase.
Step 3. Develop Habits for Change
The best way to boost gratitude is by establishing rituals in which your family takes times to count their everyday blessings. To reap the benefits, you must be committed and do the ritual a few minutes each day for at least three weeks until it becomes a habit. Here are a few ideas:
Thank-you ABCs. This one is great for younger kids to do at the dinner table. You and your kids say the alphabet together, but for each letter include something you are grateful for: A, Aunt Helen; B, my brother; C, my cat, and so on. Take it up a notch by having the person explain why he is grateful. Families with small kids rarely get beyond H, but the point is that you're having fun together, and your kids are also learning to be appreciative. Older kids can reveal one thing they are grateful for that happened to them during the day and why.
Prayers of thanksgiving. Say a prayer of thanks together before meals. Some families take turns so that each night a different member leads the prayer.
Bedtime family blessings. Each child exchanges messages of appreciation for one another, followed by a goodnight hug and kiss.
Gratitude letters. Your child writes a letter to someone who has made a positive difference in his life but whom he has probably not thanked properly in the past (such as his teacher, coach, scoutmaster, or grandparent). Research shows that to maximize the impact, your child should read the letter to the person face-to-face. If the person lives far away, videotape your child reading the note and send it to recipient, or have the child read his note over the phone. And if you happen to have a video conferencing feature on your computer, use it so the recipient and your child can see each other and share the moment.
Gratitude journals. Younger kids can draw or dictate things they are most grateful for; older kids can write in a diary or in a computer. Just remember to start one for yourself or for your family. Research shows that your kids should write something they feel grateful for four times a week and continue for at least three weeks.
Focusing on giving, not getting. Involve your child more in the process of choosing, making, and wrapping gifts. Give your kid the honor of handing out presents to relatives during the holidays and giving a thank-you gift to the hostess, teacher, or coach. Switching the emphasis from the role of getter to that of giver may help your child recognize the effort and thoughtfulness that goes into selecting those gifts.
What To Expect By Stages And Ages
Preschooler Kids can learn to say thank you and please as soon as they can talk, but will need constant reminders. Expect kids' focus to center on themselves and what "I got" instead of the giver. Although they are egocentric, they can be gently stretched to think of others. Children at this age start to understand that giving and getting are connected.
School Age Children begin to move out of the egocentric stage and understand gratitude. There is a noticeable increase in efforts to support those in need and appreciate the kind gestures of others. Sports and contests fuel a competitive spirit, so watch for your child starting to compare his possessions to others'.
Tween Tweens can take others' perspective into consideration, so they are better able to appreciate the thought that went into a gift. They finally comprehend the full rewards of give-and-take, though they still need reminders to send out those thank-you notes. Peer pressure and the need to fit in are huge; appreciation for what he has is frequently not as important as his interest in what the other kids have.
One Simple Solution
Teach Your Child How to Be Appreciative—Even If He's Disappointed
It's easy for kids to look grateful about receiving gifts they like, but it's much harder for kids to learn to accept an unappealing gift with grace. So teach your child how to accept gifts graciously by rehearsing polite comebacks prior to the event. A few gracious responses might be "Thank you for this. I really appreciate it" or "Thanks. That was nice of you." Sometimes "Thank you so much!" might be best. Stress that your child doesn't have to like a gift, but he must show his appreciation for the thought that went behind the effort.
One Parent's Answer
A mom from Portland, Oregon, writes:
My kids were not as appreciative as I'd hoped and were taking things for granted. Then it dawned on me that I wasn't necessarily the greatest model of gratefulness. I made a pledge to share little things I was thankful for with my kids every day—like my health, job, kids, and friends. They were skeptical at first, but they're now sharing things they're grateful for. My son calls it our "Count Your Blessings" talk.
More Helpful Advice
Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude, by Sarah Ban Breathnach
Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You, by Deborah Norville
Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert Emmons
The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life, by Stephen Post
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