Do you remember experiencing a deep sense of gratitude as a child? I can remember Christmas in our little house. My three brothers and I knew we only had a few wrapped bundles under the tree. Dinner was either a homemade casserole or chili. The TV spent most of the day collecting dust as we read the Christmas story together, opened presents, and raced around the house enjoying our new treasures.
It’s natural for us to want to give our children the world, but my story of gratitude had a great deal to do with how little I received. Or should I say, how little emphasis was placed on how much I received? As imperfect as I am, I now have a desire to pass that gratefulness down to my children today.
No generation needs more intentionality in this area than that of our children.
The Counter-Culture Effect of Living On Less
What began in the 1980s as an effort to provide children with an easier life became the first surge of entitlement. The good motives behind giving kids what they’d need actually hurt them as they reached adulthood. Twenty-four million young adults between 18 and 34 years of age are still living with their parents, according to a recent Census Bureau report. That’s eight percent more than the previous decade in every state.
Other statistics centered around today’s families are more staggering:
The average Christmas shopper spent $929 in 2016. Source: AmericanResearchGroup.com
Children receive their first smartphone at age 10, on average. Source: TechCrunch.com
More than 71 percent of teens are on more than one social media network. This can have adverse effects on their self-esteem, continually showing them happy moments that your teen didn’t experience. Source: CNN.com
Mom and dad are the core members of a child’s development team. You can empower your children to live differently than the culture they see today. It’s my belief that the greatest weapon against entitlement is gratitude.
How do we raise our children to take on a life of gratitude?
Below are some practical ways you can pass down a legacy of gratitude in your home.
Start conversations. There is so much going on in the world today. So many children grow up in impoverished countries. For many, even clean water is a luxury they cannot afford. Tackling hard topics like this when your children are old enough to understand will help them take stock of their own conveniences - and what they can do to help others.
Volunteer with them. Take them somewhere with people in need. One mom took her two boys to a homeless shelter after detecting how ungrateful they’d become. When you read her account of how they served all day in a soup kitchen, it’s clear the experience left a lasting impression on their entire family.
Lead by example. What are you doing in your own mind and heart to cultivate a sense of gratitude? What do your children see when they watch you make choices and go about your day? More is caught than taught, as they say.
Read “The Power of Half” together. After realizing their children were growing up in a large home with every need and want met, one family decided to drastically downsize. Not only did they downsize by half, but they gave the other half from the sale to charity - as a family. This is an excellent read for your family since the children take a very active role in the entire process.
Place healthy boundaries on all the bells and whistles. - i.e. DVD player in your vehicle, tablets at restaurants, TV, phone. You’re raising adults who will need to know how to place healthy boundaries on their own lives someday. Paving the way by limiting screen time or being proactive with discussions at the dinner table when they’re young will help immensely.
Focus on experiences, not stuff. Someone once challenged me to ask my children what they liked best about our family. I was humbled to hear both of them say, “Spending time together.” Here I thought they’d say eating snacks or playing Mario Kart. Guess who’s got two thumbs and bought a whiffle ball set and gardening supplies later that week when she discovered her kids actually wanted to spend time with her? This gal.
Children are so special to be around. They may think quite a lot about themselves instead of others at first, but they also have a huge place in their heart to cultivate goodness. You have the privilege and, dare I say, the responsibility to guide their hearts toward the good things of this world. Not to teach them what to think, but to teach them how to think for themselves. They’re inheriting this world. Let’s teach them to take good care of it and each other.
How do you cultivate more gratitude in your home? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!
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