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As a parent we all have our pet peeves. We have those things that just make our skin crawl and easily cause our patience to run thin. For example, it drives my husband nuts when he hears kids say “Yeah” or “Huh?” rather than “yes ma’am” or “Ma’am?” For me, I have realized my biggest pet peeve is when my children show a lack of appreciation or show a sense of entitlement. Nothing will make me go crazy quicker than when my child receives a special treat and then complains about it rather than simply being grateful.
I think a big issue with our culture today is children walk around feeling entitled. We’re now in a culture where kids come home with a poor grade and the parents rush to the school to blame the teacher rather than putting any blame on the child. We give trophies for simply participating in a sporting event. We make everything “fair” all the time. We don’t keep score. We celebrate mediocrity. We praise our children from the moment they start crawling until they graduate high school. We worry more about building their self-esteem than we do in training them to become independent, respectful adults. Our kids are constantly made to feel so special, so perfect, and are so accustomed to the our worlds revolving around them that they no longer appreciate any of it. They expect praise. They expect rewards. They expect to have us catering to their every whim.
And when everything doesn’t go just the way they want it? They complain. They melt down. They simply do not know how to function. How are we doing them any favors by raising them this way? The real world is NOT fair. And the real world will NOT revolve around them. It won’t constantly give them praise. It won’t treat them delicately. And by sheltering them from the hardness of life, we are giving them a much tougher road once they do reach adulthood.
These are all things I think about often. In my goal to be an intentional parent, I strive to think about the big picture for my children. I do not just aim to “make it through today” but I have a bigger goal. I want to help raise them to “make it through adulthood.” I don’t want my children to be lumped in with others from their generation who expect everything handed to them on a silver platter. I want for them to be thankful, appreciative, and humble. But how do I achieve that goal?
Of course I am still very much a work in progress on this. My oldest child is five and I am just starting to really face this issue head on. Here are some of the things I’m learning and trying to do in attempts to train my kids to have an attitude of appreciation:
1. Remain The Parent: Who runs our home? My husband and I. We are the parents. We lead our household. We decide when it’s bed time. We decided what is for dinner. We decide what we have planned each day. Do we allow our children to make some decisions? Of course! But, for the most part, they have not yet reached an age where they can handle that freedom responsibly. On occasion we will have a special date night with each child where we will ask them where they want to eat. If they said a fancy steak house would we say yes just because we gave them that privilege to choose? No. Even when we give them the choice, we still have set boundaries that they can choose within. By always having boundaries set, we are helping our children to know their limits and learn from an early age that they are a part of our family unit. We all can contribute ideas and suggestions but they are not in control! This helps avoid that sense of entitlement because they know they don’t “rule the roost” in our home.
2. Don’t Always Give What They Want: I struggle with this when my children first start being able to communicate. They can tell me they want apples so I happily give apples! Finally they can express their wants and desires and I am so happy not to have the guessing game anymore that I give them too much control and power. I cater to what they want rather than what I know is best. I have to remind myself that I am the parent and readjust when necessary. If my child wants apples with their lunch, great. But that doesn’t mean they can get the apples. If I’ve already prepared lunch they will have to eat what they are given first and then have some apples after they eat what I’ve prepared. I don’t jump up as soon as my children call for me. I try to teach them delayed gratification the best I can. They may want Mommy right now but if Mommy is doing something then they can wait until I’m finished. Patience is such a valuable and important skill and not always getting everything they want, when they want it, helps them to learn that skill early on.
3. You Get What You Get (And You Don’t Get Upset): This is actually something I remember hearing on old school episodes of Jon and Kate Plus 8. You know, back in the day before they totally crashed and burned haha. I wasn’t even a parent yet but the phrase really stuck with me. If I give you a blue cup and you wanted a red one, oh well. You get what you get! We actually have changed it up a bit and often say “you get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.” We have a two year old who is well trained in pitching fits so it’s appropriate to use with her 😉 When my children start to complain about what they are given I nip it right away. I will use this phrase and then I will correct them by saying “thank you Mommy for the blue cup.” and have them repeat that back to me. Training them to show appreciation, even when it’s not exactly what they want, helps avoid that entitlement and expectation to always get their way.
4. Let Them Lose: We started playing nightly boardgames with our son when he was around 4 years old. At that age they don’t really understand the concept of winning and losing and, most often, we’d rig the game so he’d win. As we found more age appropriate games we stopped always having him be the winner. We always make sure to shake hands after each game and say “good game” to each other. We don’t allow lots of celebrating for winning nor do we allow pouting for losing. It’s a game. You win some, you lose some and you need to have a happy heart no matter what the outcome. By allowing him to learn how losing feels, we are preparing him for the realities of life. There will be many times that no matter how hard he tries…he will fail. Others may get promoted at work instead of him. He may sit on the bench while he watches teammates out on the field. Training him to handle losing a board game is preparing him to handle those times of disappointment and to not have a false expectation to win all the time.
5. Praise when Appropriate: It’s very easy to get caught in the trap of overly praising our children. We are so excited when they reach new milestones that we tend to be a little too enthusiastic about them! I try to recognize when my children acquire a new skill yet I also try not to make a bigger deal about it than I should. Crawling is exciting, but it’s also a skill they did not have to really work to achieve. Our son just “graduated” from preschool. Did he work hard in preschool? Of course! But did he really need some big graduation ceremony? No. Of course, we went to the ceremony and congratulated him on how well he did during his performance at the ceremony, but we never made a big to-do about the “graduation” itself. When our children color a picture we say “Yay! I love that!” but don’t go on and on about them being the next Picasso or something. We will point out areas where they can improve on things as constructive criticism is beneficial to their development. It’s a balancing act of recognizing achievements and giving them positive reinforcement without building them up to think they are better than others or that they have to maintain a level of perfection all the time.
6. Limit Rewards: We have all seen children who are accustomed to being given anything they want at any moment. They are the kids in the store pitching a massive fit because they want such and such toy and they want it NOW. A way to avoid those situations is to simply not buy things for our children while running errands. We will do an occasional treat? Of course! But they don’t receive a reward whenever we are out and about. We also don’t reward for chores. We are all part of this family and share this home and all contribute to keeping it nice! The reward is the clean house…no prize needed 🙂 By limiting rewards it keeps them special for times they truly are deserved and it prevents that sense of “I did such and such so where is my prize?” It also keeps special treats special. Our kids get PUMPED about one little piece of candy. That’s because we don’t eat candy on a regular basis so when they do have it, it’s truly a treat! They show appreciation for small, simple enjoyments because we don’t have them as regular happenings in our home.
7. Don’t Be Fair: When you have more than one child you start hearing “that’s not fair” quite often. I had a recent experience with this. My son went to an art class for an hour so I took my daughter for ice cream while we waited for his class to be finished. His class cost me $10 and a lot of effort to get him there and home etc. When we left the class and his sister said she got ice cream he got upset and went on and on about how unfair it was that he didn’t also get ice cream (this story actually inspired this post!). Oh I was not a happy Mommy!!! I explained to him that everything is not fair all the time. We don’t all get the same things or get to have the same experiences. He got to do the art class which he should have appreciated and been thankful for. The end. No complaining about whatever his sister got to do! It was a good reminder to me that I do need to make sure both kids have different experiences and learn to be happy for each other instead of bitter that they may not have gotten to be included.
8. Have Honest Talks About Reality: I strive to be very honest with my children. It’s easy for them to get caught up in things other people are doing and to have jealousy. In my efforts to have them be appreciative and avoid an attitude of entitlement, I share with them the WHY behind what we do. No, we don’t go out to eat like their friends do. But that is because we have a goal to eventually have a beach house. Even my five year old knows we are working to pay off our debts and eventually (like 10 years from now, Lord willing) have a beach home for our family to enjoy. I have even asked him if he’d rather eat out more and not get to do some of the fun things we do (like vacationing) and he said he’d much rather get to go on vacations than eat out. Even at the age of 5 he can understand that we have goals as a family and have to sacrifice as a family to achieve those goals. By being honest about some of the reasons we don’t do things, I think it helps our children to have a better grasp of reality and have realistic expectations. It limits their feelings of jealousy and helps them have a better appreciation when we do fun things because they understand the sacrifice it took us all in order to have that fun experience!
9. Model Appreciation: Our kids copy what we do. Just as we want them to appreciate us and the things we do for them, we should also appreciate them. Thank your children! Let them know how much you appreciate them helping you. I may not praise for drawing a picture or doing something I have asked them to do…but when my kids show an act of kindness without me asking? I praise like crazy! I am all about matters of the heart and training them to have thoughtful, helpful, happy hearts is something I really strive for. I also have been working on showing appreciation to my spouse more. I think we often take our husbands for granted and don’t thank them as much as we should, especially in front of our children. I’m thankful for how hard my husband works, how much he helps around the house, and for the love he provides for us. Showing him appreciation will not only benefit our marriage but will also show our children to appreciate each other and their spouses someday as well.
10. Keep The Focus Above: More than anything else I pray my children will always be walking towards the light and will be striving to live lives like Jesus. By keeping our focus on God and His will for us we will naturally be happier people, more content in our lives, and more appreciative. We know none of us are deserving of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Knowing that, how can anyone feel entitled to anything? Bringing everything back to God and always thanking Him for our blessings keeps our focus where it needs to be and allows our children to be Christ-centered rather than self-centered.
I know it’s going to always be a struggle to continue to raise our children to be appreciative in a culture that is so focused on entitlement. I pray I am able to keep the big picture always in my mind and that I will be able to help my children to be different than so many of their peers and to be a light in this world!
How do you teach your children to be appreciative? In what ways do you help them avoid that attitude of entitlement?