As parents, we want to raise kids who are grateful for everything they have — rather than constantly whining for more. But how do we pull this off, especially in today’s culture of materialism? We asked family and child behavioral expert Dr. Jennifer Freed for her take.
Her verdict: For one thing, if you’re feeling as if you’re in the center of a “me, me, me” epidemic, you’re not alone. “In our rapid digital-driven culture of material consumption and self-congratulation, people are primed to report on themselves constantly,” said Freed. “‘Selfies’ are the metaphor for the self-obsessed narratives encouraged by social media platforms.” The digital world has a lot to answer for, then. But it’s not going anywhere — and if anything, future generations are only going to spend more of their time online, which means a big part of our job as parents is to raise our kids to be grateful and compassionate.
It’s a big responsibility. “When kids get everything they ask for and are allowed to dictate how things go, they become unaware of other’s needs and expect the world to cater to them,” explained Freed. “This lack of empathy and consideration for others translates into failed intimate relationships. When we do not have the capacity and consideration to take in another person’s needs and wants, and to care about our emotional imprint on others, we inherently create relationships that are based on dominance and submission, not love. For a time, these relationships based on power and compliance function, but inevitably those who rule another human being become reviled.”
“Entitled people are rarely happy people because they are always expecting to have more, be more and bask in endless praise,” Freed added. “Grateful people, by contrast, are humble and are rewarded intrinsically from a sense of well-being and purpose.”
Time to stop giving in to our kids, then? Absolutely. “Giving in to the daily dictates of our children is not nurturing them; it is fostering a future of lonely emotional despotism,” warned Freed.
Freed suggests trying the following to improve our chances of bringing up grateful, caring, respectful human beings, not entitled, spoiled brats.
1. Spend time daily without devices in the room
Ask questions like:
- “Who have you been kind to today and how?”
- “How have you reached out to someone today? Tell me more about that?”
- “What matters most to you right now in terms of social issues? How can I support you to do something about that issue?”
2. Express gratitude daily
Every day find a time to sit with your child and list three things you are both grateful for. Lead by example!
3. Shine a light on inspirational people
Select a story from the media once a week that depicts someone doing something selfless and getting a lot of credit for it. Read it aloud with your children and ask them their thoughts and feelings about it.
4. Help others in practical ways
Get involved with your child in some sort of public service that involves actually interacting with less fortunate others. Your child needs to not just hear about being grateful, but to see gratitude demonstrated in acts of true generosity.
5. Make sure your child does not take your efforts for granted
When you drive your kids places, do their laundry, make meals for them or help them with anything, teach them how to look you in the eye and say, “Thank you.” It only takes a moment to be grateful and practicing that helps build a core value of appreciating others. On the other hand, it takes years to undo deeply patterned selfishness. Take each moment you give to your child as an opportunity for them to share their gratitude.
A version of this story was originally published in April 2017.