|News & Views
from The Parenting Center at Abington
Shifting our Children From Greed to Gratitude
"Mommy, I want that video game. Josh has it and it is so fun."
"Dad, I just have to have Nike sneakers. The others aren't as good."
"Mom, I need to go to the movies tonight. All the kids are going. It's a really cool movie."
Have you ever been appalled by the seemingly insatiable appetite your children demonstrate for the things they see advertised on television, in magazines, on the internet, in stores, in their friends' homes, etc?? And then feel upset about their seeming lack of gratitude for what they do have? When you think about all the things your children have or want, have you ever wondered "How much is enough and how much is too much??"
As we approach the holiday season, the endless stream of sophisticated and unrelenting media saturation enticing our children to want, want, want things they believe they must, must, must have, can overshadow the more fundamental meaning of the holidays. Being aware of this can make us think about what values we want to pass on to our children about satisfaction vs. discontent, giving and receiving, and what is really important in making a meaningful life.
It is easy to look at the materialistic and high-pressured world we live in as the reason for our children's acquisitiveness. But we can also consider the very nature of children to understand how "Madison Avenue" is able to capture our children's interest so strongly. Children don't innately know the difference between wants and needs. They don't know how to calibrate their needs or prioritize them. They are by nature impulsive, egocentric and lacking in judgment (some more than others). Temperament plays a part, too: some children are extremely persistent and intense in their desires. It is our job as parents to teach our children, over time, to control their impulses, to help them to gain greater judgment, to become less egocentric by learning empathy, to differentiate between needs and wants, and to know what is "enough". By teaching them these things, we can move our children on the path from a sense of entitlement to one of appreciation.
Why do we spoil our children (So what's the problem?)
Sometimes parents play into their children's hunger for material objects for any number of reasons.
· We may not be entirely clear about our own values in regard to material things.
· We may fall prey to the competition and "keeping up with the Joneses" frenzy we all live with.
· We may have a sense of not being satisfied ourselves with what we have.
· We may be ambivalent about setting the necessary limits. We don't want our children to be disappointed or frustrated. We want them to like us.
· And of course, it is our pleasure to give to our children.
While all of these motivations are understandable, they do make it more difficult to teach our children gratitude and the feeling that what they have is enough.
How do we spoil our children? Let me count the ways . . .
Most people think of a spoiled child as one who has too many material things. But it is more than just that. Certainly parents can overindulge materially, but not all children whose families are affluent and who have a lot of "things" would fit the definition of spoiled. We may know of children who come from very wealthy homes who seem appreciative for what they have and who are not so obsessed with all the "things" advertised.
So what do we mean by "spoiled?" By not requiring children to take sufficient responsibility for their actions, by doing too much for them that they could do themselves, or by giving in to their demands too often and too quickly, parents can spoil their children without spending a dime.
When parents regularly give excuses for their children not being prepared for tests, when they consistently allow them to slack on chores because the children are "too busy" or "too tired", when they do school projects for them or make phone calls for them long after the children should be handling these responsibilities for themselves, they are not preparing their children to develop coping skills that they will need as they grow. These children know they can "get away" with inappropriate behavior, learn to expect to have their demands met, don't expect to have to do things for themselves and don't learn the skills necessary to cope with life's challenges - this can easily turn into a sense of entitlement.
It is tempting to try to protect our children from disappointments and frustrations and failures and mistakes and to make life easier for them. But as Dan Kindlon states in his book Too Much of a Good Thing - Raising Children of Character in an Age of Indulgence, "we can't protect our children from the pain of growing up. Money and material things can't protect our children from the discomforts of maturation and it can't buy them character either." Children need to learn responsibility, to delay gratification, to tolerate frustration, to cope with failure and disappointment, to make amends when they have made mistakes and to give back to their family and community.
What can we do?
There are many things we can consider doing so our children develop the skills and attitudes that will help them to avoid the pitfalls of being labeled spoiled. Children learn important life skills that will set them on a course of appreciation, moderation and responsibility when we are willing to be the "executive" in our homes -
· by setting limits and saying no when appropriate,
· by helping them to delay gratification by not giving them everything they want,
· by helping them learn to tolerate frustration, by not making things too easy for them (in appropriate doses),
· by helping them cope with disappointment by letting them experience a moderate amount of disappointment and then teaching how to deal with it,
· by helping them make amends when they have hurt someone, and
· by holding them accountable for their behavior. A few other suggestions
· Review your own values about material objects, responsibility, accountability, and your own levels of gratitude vs. discontent.
· Help your child to become an educated and critical consumer of the media - discuss advertisements with him.
· Give your child the opportunity to contribute to the family through regular chores and hold them accountable for completing those chores.
· Spend time with your children more often than you spend money on them.
· Encourage your children to be actively and intensely engaged in some productive activity - so they can gain self-esteem, competency, ability to set long-range goals, learn to follow through with projects and feel the thrill of mastery and achievement. This can make material objects less important to a child.
· Give your children opportunities to give their time to needy people or to some charity so they can see others who have less than they do.
· Actively listen to (acknowledge) their wants while teaching them to distinguish between wants and needs.
We can raise children who appreciate what they have, who learn to give back and who develop skills that help them to accept responsibility and challenge. Then we can feel good "indulging" them a bit by giving things to them at the holiday time and all through the year, knowing that they will show gratitude and appreciation.
For more information on this subject, read Kindlon's book, Too Much of a Good Thing and Jean Illsley Clarke's book, How Much is Enough?. Wishing you all a joyous, warm and contented holiday season.
By Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator
|The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.
Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator
A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586
Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.
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