Gratitude

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how to raise a grateful child. Or how to not raise an entitled child.

Is this even possible if you have family that shower them with gifts all of the time?  Is this realistic when their friends get everything they ask for and more?

Does your child whine when they don’t get the toys they want or whine for more?

Does your child expect things to be handed to them even if they aren’t appreciative?

Do you want them to be more mindful about taking care of others?

How can you create gratitude where there is none?

Model it

When you are feeling frustrated and at your worst, think about what you are grateful for and say it out-loud to your kids.

When you feel like the world is against you and nothing is going right, think about what is going right and tell your children.

When your children are being pain in the necks, stop and give them a hug and tell them how grateful you are that they are your children.

Your children will learn that not everything is perfect and that we can still find appreciation in our lives.

Volunteer

Do you ever feel different after you volunteer your time?  Do you feel energized or appreciative?  This will be true for your children too.  They get to do something productive that doesn’t have any concrete results for themselves, it is simply to do something for others.  This will help create empathy which then can translate to not being entitled.

When children are surrounded by people like themselves, then they tend to think that everyone is like that.  So if all of your children’s friends have everything that they need and more, then they might believe that they also should have everything they ask for plus more.

When volunteering, sometimes I say to my children that I help out now because someday, I might be the one needing help which leads me to the next one:

The tables can turn

Without creating anxiety in my children, I tell my children that sometimes we are able to help and sometimes we may need help.  Obviously, we are planning for the future and we don’t expect anything to happen to us but I create hope with my children that if things were to change and for some reason we were to lose our house or we weren’t able to have enough money to buy groceries one week, there are people out there that will help us and we’ll be OK.

But since we are able to buy groceries right now, we’ll buy a couple more groceries and donate them to the food bank just as someone would do that for us if the tables were turned.

One of my kids has a bit more of a tendency towards anxiety and he really does well with this message because it is part of the “We take care of each other” message that I’m constantly teaching and instead of feeling overwhelming to him, it actually feels comforting.

Allowance

When your children are 5 years or older, you can use allowance to help children from becoming too entitled. If your children are asking for more and more things you can tell them that they can use their allowance for whatever they want.  If they get 2 dollars a week then they can buy whatever they want for two dollars and that will drastically reduce the consumption of toys and goods.  If they want something that costs more than 2 dollars then they will have to start saving and stop asking for things.

Travel

Last but not least, you can travel to other countries and to other cultures. This one is a little tricky because going to an all inclusive resort in Mexico probably won’t create gratitude in your child.  It may only say, “Oh look at the have-nots. Aren’t we glad that we are part of the ‘have’s’  instead of the ‘have-nots?'” Don’t set it up as a look at them versus us situation because that can be damaging towards building community and creating understanding.

Instead, try a different approach where you are able to interact with other families on a beach or maybe through a homestay.  Learn about what similarities your families have.  Create a connection where your children can see how other people live and can find happiness through means other than possessions.

Practice Every Day!

Make a gratitude journal.  Ask each other at your family dinner what their favorite part of their day was.  And also ask about their challenges or their failures because being grateful doesn’t always mean being happy!

take care

This is your new mantra:

‘We take care of each other.’

This isn’t just for parents with more than one child because parents of only children can benefit from this phrase as well.

Wondering how to keep your kids from hitting each other?

We take care of each other

Wondering how to get your child to help with the dishes?

We take care of each other

Wondering how to have less squabbling?

We take care of each other

So here it is in practice:

It’s morning. Your kids ask what papa is making for breakfast. “Papa’s taking good care of us and making eggs and toast for breakfast”.  As you are getting ready for work and they need your attention you say, “I can’t right now because I’m getting ready for work. I work so that I can take care of you and provide food for all of us.” Your child goes over to pet the cat, “You take such good care of Felix.” Then one child grabs another child’s toy. “Uh oh, did you want a turn with the toy? Let’s take good care of each other and ask for the toy instead of grabbing it. Say, ‘Can I have a turn after you?'”

So on and so forth.

Why would we do this?

Families are units.

Families are important.

Families take care of each other.

If we keep this as a mantra, then the children realize that their siblings aren’t their worst enemies, but rather someone on whom they can rely. 

What you hear becomes your inner voice.  When children hear that they are a valuable part of a unit or a pod, then they feel more secure and become more responsible.

So then this translates into chores and keeping the house nice. 

Children should never be paid for chores (chores and allowance can start at the same time, but one is not dependent on the other). Children do chores for the same reason adults do chores.  To take care of each other.  My husband helps with the laundry so that we all have clean clothes.  He is taking care of us.  I make dinner so that we are all taken care of.  My children bring in a bag of groceries from the car because we all take care of each other. 

What do you do when your child grumbles? “I don’t wanna” or even just “NO!”

Bring it back around to taking care of each other, and say, “I would love to put away the utensils for you and then you can make dinner for me.”  They will end up choosing the easier job (until they don’t!!!) and then you get them to make dinner for you.  I would be lying if I said I never had toast for dinner.  

Because toast is what they made.

emotion

My favorite word is “overwhelmed” and I use it all the time.

I think it does two things:

It really sums up parenthood

It teaches kids about emotions and empathy

I see parents trying to hide their emotions all the time.  I see mom’s apologizing for crying when there is nothing wrong for using tears as an outlet.  And I am overjoyed that moms do cry in front of each other all the time so that they create solidarity and a support system.

Parenting is hard and even though we try to keep up our appearances that it is easy, it doesn’t work and we need to allow our emotions to show so that we can be there to support each other.

If you are overwhelmed, you are allowed to show it.

When my day feels so long and my children are driving me crazy and one more thing happens the throws me over the edge, I say, “I’m really overwhelmed.”  And then I either try to take some deep breaths or I walk away and take some space (usually in my room for just a minute or two).

Kids then learn all about emotions and empathy when moms show their emotions. 

If you can name what you are feeling and even give some ideas on how to deal with it, then so much the better for everyone.  But don’t hide the feeling.  Don’t apologize for it. Just feel it.

You are allowed to cry.  You are allowed to yell.  You are allowed to feel all of the emotions and in fact, everyone benefits from moms showing emotions so let it all out!

 

 

some-days

It happens, our children are driving us up the wall and to be totally honest, we don’t want to be around them.  We don’t want to hear their voices.  (We don’t really like them) and it feels horrible.

We react differently when we feel this way and we want to get out of this cycle but they are just so annoying.

So practice gratitude around your child.

We know this makes a difference.  In another one of my favorite articles in the New York Times, the author talks about how a bad situation is flipped upside down when he invokes gratitude.  It can work with your kids too.  When you add in gratitude, your whole perspective will change. 

  • So while you are making breakfast, think about one thing that you love about your child.
  • Before you go to bed, write down one thing that you enjoyed about your child during the day
  • Your children may be pain in the necks, but remember what you do have, food on the table, a safe place to sleep, clean clothes to wear.  When we put things into perspective, it is easier to practice gratitude.
  • Volunteer at your local homeless shelter or a group that works with refugees.  When you give, you are also practicing gratitude and if your kids are old enough, have them participate too.

This is real.

When our kids are complete pains, we can really turn things around by practicing daily gratitude.

 

 

 

empathy

(The most important thing you can do, by the way, is eat a family dinner together).

Often my posts are about changes you can make when working with your children to help create a better life for you and them.  But today, I’m going to talk a little bit behind the scenes with some “why’s” behind what we do.

Empathy is really such a cornerstone concept because it is super important for parents to have with their children and even more important skill for children to learn.

What is empathy?  My husband said that it is knowing how other people feel.  That in itself is correct, but it is so much more than that.

Empathy is understanding other people’s feelings and what is happening behind the feeling.

Empathy is putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Let’s first talk about empathy, sympathy and compassion.

Empathy is understanding where someone is coming from.  It is the why behind the actions or behavior.

Sympathy is either feeling the same emotion or being able to feel the same emotion.

Compassion is wanting to help someone who is in need.

All three of these are very important but the one that gets forgotten the most is empathy.

Here are some examples:

With the war in Syria, we have empathy for the refugees. We understand why they are leaving their country.  We probably won’t be able to sympathize with them, unless we ourselves have had to leave our country under duress.  We will most likely have compassion for them and want to help.

However, we may also have empathy for the countries who are not taking in the refugees.  Why are they not helping?  If we look at the “why” behind their behavior we might read that they don’t feel like they have the resources to take in all the refugees.  They might even be afraid of what the future will look like with so many people who don’t have jobs or who speak the language.  If we look at the why’s behind their behavior, we might have empathy for these countries. Even though I may not agree with these countries, I can understand where they are coming from. I myself wouldn’t have sympathy for these countries because I believe that I would feel differently. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we have compassion for these countries.   If they are refusing entry to the refugees, they don’t deserve any compassion for their actions.

So the three are intertwined but can also be very separate.  When empathy becomes the most difficult, but most important, is when we see behavior that is undesirable.  In the first example, pretty much everyone would have empathy for the refugees, but in the second example, it is a bit more difficult to have empathy for countries refusing refugees entry.  We have to dig deep to find some empathy and figure out where the behavior is coming from.

When we have empathy for our children, our conflicts de-escalate, our connection builds and we can solve problems without all the fussing and fighting that often happens with people don’t get their way.

If your child doesn’t get a toy that they want, you can empathize with that.  They wanted something, they didn’t get it.  That sucks.  It sucks for us adults as well when we wanted a poppy seed bagel and we get to the bagel shop and they are all out.  We can empathize.  “You are bummed because you didn’t get that toy that you wanted.”  We can sympathize, “I feel the same way when I don’t get something I want.”  We can have compassion, “Would you like a hug?”

We also need to have tons of empathy when we are giving consequences.  We may be angry with our children when their behavior is unacceptable, but it is wiser and more effective to give consequences with a big ol’ dose of empathy.  Let’s say your one child has just smacked your other child after a particularly trying morning.  

Without empathy:

You can pick him up angrily and bring him into his room and say, “Don’t ever do that again!”

With empathy:

You can stop, say, “Uh oh.  I can’t allow you to hit anyone.  I know you wanted that toy, but you will have to go somewhere where everyone will be safe.” and carry him gently into his room.

 

And equally important as empathizing with our children is teaching them empathy.

How do we teach empathy?

First, we are empathetic with our children.  Then, we teach them problem solving skills which include looking at other solutions (seeing where the other child is coming from).  Thirdly, we talk about the why’s behind behavior.

For really young children, we can just point out the “why” behind the situation:

Without empathy:

“Stop fussing! You both need to share!”

With empathy:

“Look, Eliza wants a turn with the toy, too.”

Without empathy:

“Ugh, that child is so whiny.”

With empathy:

“Let’s give some of our snack to Melissa, I think she might be hungry.”

And for older children, it can be much more of a discussion:

Is someone bothering your child (a sibling or a child at school)? You can start the discussion with, “What do you think is going on?”   “Do you think that the other child wants what you have?”  “Do you think they might be lonely?”

When you look at the why’s behind the situation and help your child look at why someone is acting someway, then you are teaching them all about empathy.

 

Why does all this matter?

Just like blueberries are one of those super-foods, empathy is one of those super skills.  Children and adults who have empathy end up having more friends, getting better jobs, are better bosses, have better relationships and so on.   There is one caveat, however and that is that there is a study that says that the most powerful people in the world have less empathy than other people.  So if you want your child to be a ruler and be able to get power with any means necessary, then don’t teach her empathy.  But if you want her to be successful and happy, then use empathy yourself with your children and teach them how to be empathetic as well.