Many years ago, I found myself at a end of the school year party with one of my daughters. The party was at the home of one of her classmates. She was in grade school at the time. The family hosting the party lived in a huge mansion and the event was as over the top as any child's party I had ever witnessed. Out on the lawn, near the catering station over looking the pool and inflatable slides and jumping ball pit stood the hostess of the party, who was the mother of one of my daughter's classmates.
As various parents and children entered the gathering, (most with an expression of utter disbelief on their faces) I remember standing waiting to greet and thank the hostess for this unbelievable event. As I waited, I could over hear her telling another parent that although they had lived in the mansion for over a year, she still yearned for their last house and really couldn't find much to be happy about. I was stunned. This woman was complaining about her life just as people who barely knew her, were ogling over all the incredible riches that her daily life afforded her. I did not know this mother well, and she may have been having a bad day, or problems that I was unaware of. I didn't hear the entire conversation. So I am not trying to pass judgment here, but at the time, I found it incredible that someone in these circumstances would be complaining and not feel utter gratitude, every single moment for the life that she had been given. But that is easy for me to say. There are certainly people who could look at me when I am complaining and have the same thoughts run through their head. What does she have to complain about? How can she not appreciate all that she has been given! So what is the characteristic that seems to be lacking? Gratitude.
As parents, we need to consciously teach our children to be grateful and appreciate what they have. Often, we get so caught up in fulfilling their every want and need, we forget to look at the big picture and remember that handing our children everything does not teach them anything but insatiable greed. A habit of handing your child every latest gadget, just makes them yearn for the next and newest one. Buying them closets full of designer clothes and shoes will never give them the self esteem they lack. Things don't make people happy. Relationships do. But somehow, many of us think that giving our kids everything they want will help foster our relationship with them. I am sorry to be the one to tell you that this doesn't work.
So how do you raise a child to be thankful? Well first of all, look in the mirror. Do they see you being grateful for what you have? Do you make it a point to thank people for what they give you? Do you write thank you notes or emails or make phone calls when someone has helped you out or given you a gift?
Help your child to appreciate what he/she has by having them give to others. Have your children donate toys or clothes to organizations that will pass them on. As they get older, encourage them to volunteer their time through service clubs at school or your parish or synagog. Volunteering to help others often exposes your children to families who do not have what they take for granted. This can be an eye opening experience for preteens and teenagers.
Require your children to have chores and contribute to the running of your household. If you do everything for them, they don't even understand how good they have it. But if they are involved in doing work around your household, they begin to realize that the laundry fairy and the grocery elves do not exist.
And finally, expect them to step up for you when you need them to. I recently had to organize a party for a retiring coworker. Two of my daughters were there with me to set up and help throughout the afternoon and clean up. It was a lot of work, but I knew that I could count on them to be there for me and not let me down. That is the type of relationship we have cultivated, because they appreciate all that they have and have confidence in their own abilities to help out.
When your children are young, get in the habit of having them tell you what they are thankful for each night before they go to bed. This little moment of gratitude can set the tone for a fulfilling life ahead, instead of a life of discontent and disappointment.
And if your children are older but suffer from a lack of appreciation, begin in small ways to expect more of them and also remind them how lucky you feel to have them in your life; because everyone loves to be acknowledged and appreciated.