I recently attended an event held at a shopping mall that hosted over 3,000 kids ranging in age from 7 to 12 years old. These were, for the most part, representative of the average middle class American family. Unfortunately, and collectively, so was the behavior. “Mom can I get this,” “Dad, pleeeeease biggie-size,” and “Why can’t I?” echoed around me like a never-ending word in the Grand Canyon.
Ungrateful kids? Spoiled rotten? Don’t know how well they have “it?” Many times, parents lament over their child’s seemingly ungrateful behavior and the attitude of take without receiving and the lack of appreciation. But, is it really a matter of ungrateful kids or is the root as parents, not providing clarity in what it is that is truly the treat?
In my child’s early years, I too wrestled with what I felt were ungrateful kids. Then I realized, I didn’t fully explain the reward, meaning, where and what we should be grateful for; the “that’s it?” was quickly replaced with “thanks, Mom!”
A few examples:
When we would see a movie at the theater, my child always wanted to purchase overpriced, not-needed sugar-laden concessions. I explained ahead of the movie outing that the treat was not the goodies at the concession stand, but rather, going to the movie. And, purchasing a candy bar the day before, in which she chose to bring with her, allowed a teaching moment to show the candy at the store was under $1.00 whereas the movie theater candy was $3. We also got into the habit of popcorn celebrations following the movie. As we’d usually catch a matinee or early evening show, it was a fun continuation of the “treat” i.e. movie, to come home, get our pillows and blanket sprawled out on the floor, pop some popcorn and talk about the movie.
Another tricky, yet conquered situation was attending large-scale productions (on-ice, circus, “live” characters). It was bad enough tickets were $30-50 per person, then factoring in parking and we had easily, $100-200 event, depending how many in our family would attend. Sure enough, the dazzling lights of the whirly toy, the $18 snow cone in a souvenir cup and little Timmy sitting in the row ahead of us with his light-up saber would tempt and taunt my child throughout the whole production. I felt I was always saying no. Then, I turned the event into the treat and a day ahead of the production, would go to the dollar store with my child to find a related toy she could tuck in her pocket. Sometimes, our adventure included a quest for a little stuffed elephant, other tines, it was a small book or puzzle pad, but with a related theme. Oddly, it always worked.
Finally, as my daughter grew older, we made it a mother-daughter day. We’d do a fun, free activity, like a quick walk through our city art museum or window shopping at the pet store or humane society to give some love to the animals, followed by an inexpensive but nice lunch—soup and a sandwich was perfect as a tide-me-over and suddenly, the junk food peddler at the concession was simply noise.
Ungrateful kids will become ungrateful adults. Gratitude begins with shifting emphasis. This is what worked in our home and many others. I welcome your replies and hearing of your success.
Gratefully yours, Daphne.
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