I know I’m not the only parent to struggle with teaching my children gratitude in the face of constant consumer pressure. Our culture preaches more more more while my parenting instincts scream less less less. Our children are bombarded with the precept “more is better” and the expectation of instant gratification. Few children I know naturally choose to appreciate what they have rather than wanting more ad nauseam. Much like empathy, I believe gratitude and thankfulness are best taught through explicit instruction and real-life modeling.
In our house, we discuss gratefulness and greed as polar opposites. Everyone is responsible for choosing whether to behave in a greedy way or in a grateful way. Of course, no one is perfect so the greedy tide ebbs and flows in a natural rhythm of understanding and learning. But for my children, frequent discussions and life lessons on the benefits of gratefulness is a sure way to push greed out of the house.
The most obvious segue to the discussions is to start with a question: Are you being grateful or greedy? I’ll tell you, the children know the proper answer every.single.time. Even Mr.4 lets me know exactly where he stands on the greedy scale. From there, we talk about how nothing good comes from greed. Obviously, if the plan was to share an avocado with a sibling, you will never get both halves just because you are demanding in a rude voice. If your Frozen playlist is blaring so loudly my brain can’t function, your choice is to lower the volume or turn off the music. Are you grateful for listening to your music or being greedy as you insist you only like it loud? Kids are smart and the Socratic method is just right for leading them to make their own realization regarding their actions.
Role playing is another great tool for helping our children learn to identify grateful and greedy behaviors. Riding in the car is the best time for us to role play as I have a captive audience and they are typically quite amenable to any discussion whilst riding. No need to be complicated: lay the scene, identify character traits and let the creativity roll. “Let’s pretend we are at a birthday party. Mr. 9, it is your birthday. Ms.7, you are greedy and jealous of his new presents. Mr.4, you are grateful your brother is having a nice day. And go!”. If this is hard for your kids, keep it even more simple: “Pretend it is your birthday. What is something grateful you can say when you open presents? What is something that might sound greedy?” I’m a big fan of role play because it is so versatile to whatever topic needs to be discussed. And what kid doesn’t want to play the greedy role?!
As with all things Positive Discipline, it is our responsibility to take the time to teach. We certainly don’t want our children to behave greedily but for me, pointing out greedy assertions and exploring the roots of those emotions is the most straightforward way to teach the fine art of feeling grateful. Greedy today . . . grateful tomorrow. And maybe a little greedy the next day. These children are works in progress, just like you and me.