Heading into Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, many parents are probably thinking, “My child is ungrateful! How do I teach them to focus less on material things and be more thankful?”
It’s not surprising that kids are overall less thankful than they used to be.
A 2013 study by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin tracked materialism in 355,000 high school seniors from 1976 to 2007 and found that the desire for lots of money has increased markedly since the mid-1970s, while willingness to work hard decreased.
Among kids surveyed, 62 percent who answered between 2005 and 2007 thought it was important to have lots of money and nice things. Meanwhile, just 48 percent had this view from 1976 to 1978. That’s a huge difference.
My child is ungrateful: how to raise a grateful child
Science shows that kids who have a more developed sense of gratitude and appreciation are not only less depressed and materialistic, they’re less envious of others and even tend to do better at school. All of which leads to a better outlook on life in general.
Is teaching your child empath and gratitude possible in this season of “give me, give me, give me!”? Can you teach your kids to be thankful for what they have and refocus them from getting to giving?
Here are 5 ways to teach ungrateful children how to have an attitude of gratitude.
1. Role model the behavior.
It’s a little unrealistic to think that your kids won’t be materialistic if you are.
Children pay all kinds of attention to the behavior of their parents and if they see them wanting the latest car, the fastest computer and the latest fashions, it’s a good bet that they will want the same — after all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
If you’re thinking, “My child is ungrateful,” you may want to check and see if you are, too.
2. Volunteer with your children.
The holidays are a wonderful time to start volunteering with your children because there are so many opportunities available and people in need of help.
Consider baking cookies together and taking them to a local nursing home and passing them out to all the residents, or visiting a homeless shelter and helping prepare and serve holiday meals.
These are excellent, easy ways to role model giving rather than taking.
Added benefit: studies show that children who volunteer learn to think of others rather than just focusing on themselves.
3. Practice gratitude every day.
Being thankful is a learned behavior. Therefore, it’s something you can teach to your children.
A very simple exercise that helps children be more thankful is practicing gratitude on a daily basis.
When you sit down with your children at dinner, go around the table and take turns naming one thing you’re thankful for that happened during the day.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a material item, in fact, it would be better if it wasn’t, because it helps children learn that there’s more to be thankful for than just stuff.
Parents can set an example by talking about how they’re thankful for the food they’re eating that night. Or, they can also talk about how they’re thankful for the grandparent’s help in babysitting.
When parents show that they’re thankful for other things besides material possessions, it helps teach kids the same thing and the end result is that they become less materialistic.
4. Give them less.
One of the easiest ways to help kids learn to be thankful for what they have is simply to give them less. How can you value anything when you have too much of something?
The answer is that you can’t. Giving your children less helps them appreciate what they already have.
Another way to help kids be less materialistic is to help them really focus on celebrating what the holidays are truly supposed to be about — giving and being with friends and family.
Shop for a tree and decorate it together. Also, consider making handmade gifts for friends and family.
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Added benefit: homemade gifts help teach kids that great gifts don’t necessarily need to come from a store.
5. Write “thank you” notes together.
Sending handwritten “thank you” notes may seem a bit old-fashioned in this day and age, but it’s actually one of the best ways to help teach your children to be more thankful.
Not only do they learn good manners (after all, very few people take the time and effort to send a written thank you anymore), it helps them focus on being and showing gratefulness for something and someone.
Added benefit: if it’s a grandparent or other friend or relative receiving the “thank you” note, it will make their day too. A handwritten “thank you” quickly becomes the gift that keeps on giving!
If you practice these tips then pretty soon instead of thinking, “My child is ungrateful,” you may be telling everyone, “My child is humble and caring.”
Christina Steinorth-Powell is a Licensed Psychotherapist and the author of the new book Cue Cards for Men: A Man’s Guide to Love and Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.
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