‘Tis the season for gratitude and generosity—and for expecting it in our children especially at this time of year. The gimmies and the lengthy lists for Santa provoke fears of consumeristic, unappreciative, thoughtless kids. The daily dose of “I don’t want to…” after a simple request raises fear your kids will never show consideration or helpfulness without being brow-beaten into it. And we start to clutch.
Yes, life would be easier if your children did what you wanted when you wanted it, if they didn’t embarrass you in public, if their behavior always made you proud. But can you see that’s all about you? You really are self-centered when it comes to raising your children. When they behave like children, you freak out and yell, threaten and nag. That leaves your children feeling powerless, misunderstood, wrong, and afraid. Behavior gets worse—on both your parts. Soon you are dealing with the kids you most feared.
Aren’t we all self-absorbed, really? We all want what we want when we want it. The difference between us and children is maturity. Our prefrontal cortex tells us the consequences of being inconsiderate. If we want relationships, we need to consider what others want and make compromises so relationships can work.
But your kids aren’t there yet. They should not be expected to do what they are not ready for. It is normal for them to care only about what they want.
Instead of the brow-beating approach, what you want to see in your children needs to start with you.
~ Are you as respectful of your children as you want them to be of you? Or do you yell, blame, threaten, withdraw privileges to control them?
~ Do you provoke their anger or fear to make them do what you want and then blame them for not listening to you”?
Being respectful does not mean giving in or giving them what they want. It means taking the lead on empathy, kindness, listening, and problem solving, which never requires blame, threats, and punishment. But it does require strength and firmness from you.
When you cave because it’s easier right now, when you do not allow them to fail and learn from their own experiences, when you give in to avoid a meltdown, when you try to protect them from the world, you are more in danger of raising entitled kids. This is all about you and your comfort level.
When kids are told what to do and how, and threatened when they don’t, the result can be a teen who no longer listens to parents, is more influenced by peers, and flounders in the face of responsibility. If they feel criticized and judged, they stop counting on parents for support.
Tips for what to do instead:
- Pay attention to developmental stages. Catch yourself expecting your older child to behave more maturely than his years. Don’t expect gratitude for the choices you make for your children and what they have learned to expect.
- Be respectful even when setting a limit. “It’s not okay with me when that happens. What can we agree on, so it works for both of us?”
- Understanding and acknowledging the emotions that provoke even the worst behavior from your child—rather than focusing on the behavior—models compassion.
- Acknowledging that your child’s agenda is as important to her as yours is to your model’s consideration.
- Be generous with your kids. Give them second chances. Listen to their arguments. Help with things that are tough. Using the golden rule models thoughtfulness.
- Ask for their opinions on decisions that affect their lives. Ask what they think about things and people rather than telling them what to think. Model appreciation by honoring who they are as individual, thinking people.
- Be sure to acknowledge your gratitude whenever your child does something you have asked. Say please and thank you to them always.
- Stress and model that generosity is a responsibility for those who have.
- List 1-3 gratitudes per person at dinnertime. Ask what someone did for you that day and what you did for someone else.
- Read something from the paper at dinner reporting a generous or kind act.
- Give allowance in 3 parts: 1 for saving, 1 for spending, and 1 for a charity that you and your child choose together.
Ideas for encouraging generosity around gift-giving:
- This year, talk to your kids about covid-related shopping difficulties. Ask opinions on whether it’s more important to shop online for safety or to support local businesses by shopping in person.
- Engage them in picking out and buying gifts.
- Pick out unwanted toys and clothes together to give to needy children. Don’t push young children who may still be attached to unused things.
- Involve them in Secret Santa purchases for local needy children.
- Discuss the gestures made by those who give them gifts. Get them in the habit of writing thank you cards. Let them know they can gripe to you about what they don’t like.
- Make donations to a food pantry, etc. Take your kids so they will see people receiving food. Discuss afterward.
- Encourage giving to loved ones for birthdays and holidays. Even young children can draw pictures, make cards, give a presentation, sing a song.
Be sure your own gratitude and generosity is the most important teacher for your children. Your behavior and attitude teaches far more than your words.