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!

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.

 

sibling rivalry

If you are expecting another child or you already have multiple children, then you have two wishes for them: to be good friends and to not fight all the time.

Good luck.   However, there are several things you can do to facilitate a great relationship between them and fewer headaches for you.  The most important technique (and maybe the most overlooked) is to not pit them against each other.  You want to build them up as a team.   This can happen several ways:

 

Don’t ask them who did what

This is so common and it make sense, you want to know what happened when you walked out of the room for 5 minutes and now they are both upset and presumably, one of them is to blame and we need to know who.  But what this does is immediately asks one to get the other into trouble.  It immediately asks them to rat on the other and make everything worse.  You watched Breaking Bad right?  Ratting somebody out isn’t a good thing and certainly doesn’t gain points with anyone.  So when you walk in on siblings who are crying, wrestling, upset, etc., ask, “What is the problem?  How can we solve it?”  This way you are working towards a solution rather than stuck on blame.  And you know who was to blame? (probably both of them…or hunger, or tiredness)

 

Constantly talk about how they are so good to each other

Even if they aren’t.  This is the magic of positive thinking.  If they believe that they are great siblings, then they will be great siblings.  If you catch either one do anything for the other then talk about how they are taking such good care of their sibling.  Let them over hear you say to another adult how they are great siblings and always look out for the other one.  They will absorb that information like a sponge.

 

Help them problem solve

This is just an extended version of the first tip.  They are going to have opposing viewpoints, ideas and thoughts on just about everything.  One wants to go to the park and the other one wants to go to the pool.  One wants pizza for dinner and the other wants steak.  It takes a bit longer and it can be exhausting to talk them through problem solving but the benefit of having them work it out themselves before too long is SO worth it!

Let me break it down:

Child a: I want pizza!

Child b: No I want steak!!

You: OK, we have a problem, what is the problem? (Identifying the problem is the first step to them solving it on their own- if they can’t identify the problem they get stuck in you vs. me.  At first they will need lots of support in identifying the problem but will be able to do it by themselves after a while)

Child a: We want different things for dinner.

You: OK, what are some solutions?

Child b: We can have steak this time and pizza next time.

Child a: NO! That’s not a good solution!  I want pizza! We have pizza this time and steak next time!

You: Either of those solutions might work, or I have another solution: we can have neither and have grilled cheese instead.

(Other solutions depending on your parenting style can be that each makes their own dinner, go out to dinner so that they can get their own, have neither, have both, etc.   Be creative!)

 

Don’t force them to share when taking turns is more appropriate

Children feel resentful of siblings when they feel like the sibling is taking their stuff.  So be sure to never use the term “share” as a reason to give another child a toy.  There should be a handful of things that belong to only one child and can only be used by that one child.  Examples of these might be a lovey, a super special toy, or things that only fit a certain child like a bike.  The other child never gets to play with that one or two things.  Every thing else may “belong” to one child but can be used by all or belong to the whole family (like books, balls, dolls, trucks or blocks).  If it isn’t the special toy, then turns can be taken.  This doesn’t mean that a child has to give up a toy, just that the other child gets a turn when the first child is finished using it.

 

Enjoy them for their differences

Last but not least, your children will likely be complete opposites from each other.  This may mean that one of them is more like you and one of them is not like you at all.  Embrace those differences and don’t try to fight them.  I often find that spending time with the child who is less like me can be an eye-opening experience and I learn so much.   Also don’t comment on how you would like one to be more like the other.  For instance, if you are a clean freak and so is one child but the other one isn’t, refrain from saying, “Why can’t you help clean up like child A?”  Or if you love to go biking but only one child has that same drive then be sure to hold yourself back and not say, “Why don’t you like biking? Child B loves it!”  When you embrace their differences rather than point them out and get frustrated, they will embrace their differences as well!

taking-turns

It’s not really.  Taking turns and sharing are two different things but in the world of toddlers and parenthood, we need to put the focus on taking turns and take the pressure off of sharing.

Let’s look at this from an adult point of view:

Taking turns is: I’m using the computer right now and when I’m done writing emails, you can use it to watch youtube videos.

Sharing is: Let’s split this chocolate brownie in half so we can each have some.

In both of these cases, both adults are satisfied with the results and everyone is happy!

Now lets look at this in a toddler point of view:


Taking turns is:  There is one toy that both children want.  One child gets a turn and when that child is finished, the other child gets a turn.

Sharing is: play-dough that both children can use at the same time so one child gives a piece to the other child so that they can each have some.

In both of these cases, both children are satisfied and their needs are being met and everyone is happy!


Now let’s take a look at what sharing isn’t: Telling a child that they must give something up in the name of “sharing”.  This only creates frustration.  If your husband or wife came up to you while you were writing emails and said, “You need to share the computer” and then took if from you, you would be frustrated.  Children feel the same way.  

Don’t make them give up their toy in the name of sharing!

Children have difficulty waiting their turn for the toy but they can do it!  This is a great time to introduce the sign for waiting which is wiggling your fingers.  

 

So the interaction might look like this:

Two young children:  (screaming and grabbing toys!)

Adult: It looks like it is Maria’s turn.  Max, would you like a turn after Maria?

Max: No! It’s my turn!

Adult: So you don’t want a turn after Maria?

Max: Wait, yes!  I do want a turn.

Adult: Maria, can you give Max a turn when you are finished?

Maria: No, It’s my turn!

Adult: Yes, you are using it now; can Max use it when you are done?

Maria: Um, ok.

Adult: Max what would you like to do while you are waiting? Do you want to read a book with me?

This is written for two toddlers who have vocabulary, but works just as well for children who are non-verbal as children can understand this at much younger ages.  

The idea is to teach them the language so that eventually they can manage themselves.  This is particularly important for siblings.   This takes a lot of work in the beginning but eventually your children will be able to play together because they will be respectful to each other and not take each others toys in the name of “sharing.”

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rotate-toys

With Christmas just behind us and the onslaught of new gadgets overwhelming us, let me tell you about another great little trick.

You may have heard about the idea to put a lot of the new Christmas toys away and slowly bring them out as each month goes by.  I love that idea and I want you to take it a step further.  Do it all the time instead of just at the holidays. 

Rotate your toys!

Almost every preschool teacher in the world does this and it is really quite simple and superbly brilliant!

If you have any storage space at all (or if you are like me and live in a small house, create storage space by building high shelves) then put the majority of your children’s toys away in that space. This space should be out of reach and out of sight.  

Rotate your toys!

This way, you only have a couple of toys out with which the children can play.  It may sound counterintuitive because if the children only have a couple of toys out, they are going to fight more and they are going to be bored quicker, but it actually works the other way.

Here’s some things that will happen by rotating your toys:

  • Children are less stimulated and overwhelmed by the sight, noise and options of toys and will be calmer.
  • The toys will be more interesting since they haven’t seen the toys in a couple of months and they will be more engaged.
  • Children need to learn how to take turns with toys and once they are used to the idea of fewer toys and they have learned how to take turns, they will be able to navigate the play room more easily.
  • Cleaning up toys is an issue with every child and every parent and if you have fewer toys and the children know where each toys belongs, then cleanup is easier, faster and less of a headache.
 
Start by getting some opaque storage crates because it helps in organizing the toys and if you haven’t created storage room yet, you can just stack them in a corner.  Pack up about 60% of your children’s toys in these boxes and almost immediately, you will feel lighter and you will see the difference in the way your children play!
 
Rotate those toys!