We talk to many parents who tell us their kids are not grateful. Not only do their children expect to be fed and clothed, but they expect to eat whatever they want and be clothed with the latest brands. They also expect to be given computers and phones, and signed up for (and “taxi-ed” to!) all the extra-curriculars they want to participate in. In the midst of all this there appears to be no sense of gratitude!
“How do we get them to be more thankful?” is a common question at our workshops. We respond to this question with three suggestions that have helped parents see a significant change in fairly short order. See if any of these might help you:
First, kids who experience hard work learn to appreciate it from others. You can raise the bar on your child’s responsibility concerning chores and finances! For example, a child who has been given the responsibility of preparing and cleaning up a meal begins to understand how much work and planning is involved in mealtime. Once that child knows how much time and effort is needed, he is much more inclined to be grateful when he gets served a meal. A child who is required to use his own hard-earned money to get the toys he wants (instead of just automatically getting them from you) is more likely to feel grateful when he is given gifts. Children who are given responsibilities tend to better appreciate the gifts and blessings that come their way unearned, or undeserved.
Second, kids develop grateful hearts when they feel appreciated. Kids don’t learn to thank others if they are rarely thanked themselves. Finding ways for growing kids to be truly responsible (needed) for household chores will position them to be the recipients of gratitude from others. Once you position them…then energetically THANK THEM! (For example, when your children help with a meal let them know how appreciative you are and why it is a blessing to your family. See the ABCs of Affirmation)
Finally, kids learn gratefulness when parents regularly model it. This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to miss – instead of showing gratitude for jobs or careers, parents often complain. Instead of expressing thankfulness for the blessing of family and safety, we tend to take these things for granted. Ask yourself this question: “When was the last time my child saw and heard my heartfelt expression of gratitude for my work outside the home?”
Let’s summarize these ideas to get you started down the road of building grateful hearts in your family:
- Give kids responsibility for their lives, and opportunities to serve the needs of others.
- Express your appreciation when they serve. Habitually thank them and affirm when they help out, and you’ll develop grateful kids.
- Model gratitude in your own life so your kids see it! Let your children hear you being thankful. “So thankful for air conditioning on this hot day!” or, when the recipient of a carpool ride, “Thank you so much for giving Billy a ride to soccer tonight- it made life so much easier for us.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
Struggling with entitlement in your home? Dig into our online course The Entitlement Fix: Growing Hard Work and Gratitude in Your Kids.
In our role as parent coaches and educators, we hear it all the time: “One of my kids just doesn’t seem to get it!” Parents go on to describe the child in their home who frequently resists and escapes chores and assigned tasks in spite of all the clear instructions. They then tell us that, in contrast, the other kids in their family seem to be mostly compliant.
Resentment builds as these kids become increasingly aware of the comparison between themselves and (what they perceive to be) their favored siblings. Discouragement settles in as distraction, resistance, and conflict grow.
What recent brain science is helping us understand more clearly is that often the kids who fit the above description are not naturally more rebellious, defiant, or disobedient. Rather, they naturally have lower levels of the neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine. This predisposes them to more intensely chase pleasurable distractions of all kinds. Their need for this chemical is what’s often behind their distraction, and when you call them back to routine chores they cry, “I don’t wanna do it!”. (Read more about dopamine’s role in ADHD)
WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Last week I wrote about how my junior high daughter creatively and proactively asked for an iPod by preparing a well-thought-out list of answers to concerns she thought I might have. Here’s the rest of the story!
My daughter’s proactive list was a breath of fresh air and showed me a growing capacity in her to think more broadly about the impact of purchasing the iPod. Her pleasant, non-demanding tone was another sign of her maturity and thoughtful processing of the situation.
Some parents may believe that asking for the iPod in such an impressive manner should gain her access to it immediately. She deserves it, right? Others may view it as a form of my daughter manipulating me to get what she really wanted and saying yes will only mean more of this new “tactic”.
But here’s what happened in our situation:
Recently we got an email from a mom asking what to do when her 10-year-old son refused to help with the dishes after dinner, even when punished with spanking or loss of electronics. Conflicts around chores are something that many parents and kids struggle with, so we thought we’d share our response.
When kids say “No,” parents’ first instinct is often to go right to threats or punishment to gain obedience. Spanking or yelling usually happens from a place of demanding obedience as a first goal. But if a parent’s first goal is to tap into God’s holiness and the fruit of the Spirit on the way to helping the child learn to value obedience, the scene usually goes much differently.
One day, my wife and I looked at each other and noticed ourselves doing many things for our kids that they were fully capable of doing for themselves. We also noticed that our kids, to varying degrees, would plead ignorance or inadequacy in an effort to keep us in our enabling roles. We took a step back and asked, “Whose responsibility is this, anyway?” This started our journey toward achieving a more cooperative family.
Family Meetings: just the words send some parents into a state of anxiety while kids yawn and get immediately distracted. But with a few simple guidelines family meetings can be fun, build cooperation, unity, and even leadership skills!
One of our biggest parenting mistakes is to try to get kids to behave right for the wrong reasons.
It’s a good thing to want our kids to behave responsibly and to internalize the value of responsibility, but parents tend to turn this desire into a goal for a child’s behavior.
Here’s how it works: When kids fail to take responsibility the way parents want, these parents tend to engage. We nag. We remind. We may even yell, all with the goal of getting our kids to behave responsibly. The problem is, the most important goal of parenting is not to get our kids to behave right, but to believe right. And all this effort towards behavior communicates to our child the very opposite message we’d like them to believe.
7-year-old Bryce was a master “chore evader.” When asked to help with chores, this distractable drama king would slump over and whine, “But I wanted to play!” His parents, Sandy and Jeff, had run out of ideas and came to me (Lynne) for help.
When kids begin chore wars, often the most effective response is not declaring war but shifting perspective and discipling children through the process. In this case, I helped Sandy and Jeff develop the following practical plan as they shifted their efforts from focusing on “How do we stop the complaining and get some help?” to “How can we use this opportunity to build character and even faith?”
In a family, we all need each other. We are a team, and we share in the responsibility of the household. “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Cor. 12:18). Each child has a special contribution to make to the body of Christ, and to whatever group she is in, including her family. When everyone contributes, everyone benefits. One child’s service to the family blesses other family members.
In addition, children need to serve in order to grow into healthy, contributing adults. When parents do everything for their children, they can create a sense of entitlement that leaves kids unprepared to care for themselves and others. However, when kids use their talents in ways that bless others, they begin to find their way into the purposes for which God created them.
So what can I do to help my family learn to serve together?