“Mommy, I want one, too,” my five year-old said as he watched me give a piece of toast to his big sister. I resisted the urge to correct his manners and whipped it up. When I set it front of him, his mouth turned into a pout and he said, “No! I wanted a bigger one.”
Does this sound familiar? This happened just this morning, and when he said it, I knew I had to write a blog post about it.
The thing is, I’ve taught them manners since infancy. I’ve read them the manners books. I’ve enforced the “magic word” and insisted on gratitude. I even model good manners, hoping they’ll pay attention. But after that scenario this morning, I did some good, hard thinking and realized that I needed something bigger–the “big guns” of anti-spoiling parenthood. So I did a little research and found three powerful rules to curb that sense of entitlement and ingratitude. I hope they help you as much as (I hope!) they’ll help me:
Rule #1: Set expectations.
In one of the articles I read, the parents called each errand day a “look” day or a “buy” day. If it was a “look” day, they were just window shopping, and the kids knew in advance not to ask for anything. If it was a “buy” day, they knew to bring their money because they’d be allowed to make purchases. That way, they weren’t constantly setting their hearts on objects and expecting treats. Setting expectations in advance can be a great teaching tool.
Expectations should also be clear at home. In our house, respect is the number one rule. My kids (usually–but not today, apparently!) know to begin their requests with “Please may I have…” or “Thank you for…”
Each member of my family must follow the respect rule, even the parents. I’ve sent myself to my room before. It wasn’t the punishment my kids thought it was–I think I pulled out a book–but it did show my kid that respect is something that everyone should give. Even Mommy.
Rule #2: Serve others–and make it fun.
I know. This one sounds like a sermon, but really, kids are pretty eager to serve other people when they’re young (unless it involves chores and Mom). One year at Christmastime, we passed a tree in the mall called “The Giving Tree,” decorated with ornaments of children who needed gifts that year. My daughter asked what it was, and I told her (a complicated task, considering that I had to explain why Santa brought some kids gifts, and not others). She was quiet for a long time. Finally she said, “Can we give them the money from my piggy bank? I don’t really need it.” We didn’t follow through with it–we made if a family project instead–but for that moment, she stepped out of herself and her wants, in exchange for someone else’s needs and wants. Hurray!
It doesn’t have to involve a huge sacrifice, though. It can be fun. My six year-old niece decided to draw pictures and set up an art stand outside her house. She sold her pictures to neighbors for 3 cents each and gave the money to Primary Children’s Hospital. It was a great way to combine something she loved with helping others (and frankly, her mom didn’t have to find a place for all her art. Definitely a win-win).
Oh, yeah. One more thing. My kids love making thank-you notes. It’s a good way to help them recognize the efforts of others, but still have fun creating something. And what grandparent can’t resist a thank-you note with greasy fingerprints and baby slobber all over it? I mean, come on. Priceless.
Rule #3: Teach them about the less privileged.
I talk about this a little in my book, How to Have Peace When You’re Falling to Pieces, but I worked in a Romanian orphanage for a few months in college. The children I served were the ones with physical and mental disabilities, the ones no one would ever consider adoptable. They were ignored all day until meal time, during which they had food shoved down their throats in record time. They were never potty trained, and since the orphanage couldn’t afford diapers, the orphans did their business in wadded-up pieces of clothing stuffed into their pants. I look at my own children and think, “Wow, kid. You’ve got it so good.”
I remember groaning at my dad’s “When I was a boy” stories. (How can the way to school be uphill, both ways? And how did you have snow? You lived in southern California…) But now that I have my own family, I understand why Dad was so insistent. My sisters and I grew up in better circumstances than my parents did, and my kids are living better than I ever did.
With such a limited perspective, it’s nearly impossible for kids to understand why they need to be grateful when they can’t see past their own circumstances. Maybe it’s time to carry on the “When I was a girl” stories–except they’ll start with “When I was a student, I lived in Romania…”
Well, there you go–three powerful rules for raising a grateful child. I promise to follow up on this subject and let you know how it goes. Do you have a good anti-spoiling idea? Please post it! Thanks for following.