Someone in a parenting group I’m a part of recently posted this question, With her permission, I’ve copied the question and my answer here:
How Do We Teach Gratitude?
Question: How do we teach 4 year olds about gratitude, and appreciation for what they have? My daughter has pretty much everything she could ever need/want, thanks to over zealous grandparents. She’s not satisfied, and continuously wants more.
It’s so frustrating and upsetting to have her freak out in a store when she’s not getting anything. She’s even pulled guilt trips about “not getting anything ever”.
Ideas? I’m having a hard time getting through to her.
Answer: Gratitude is an interesting concept – one many adults have difficulties with, even adults that think they’ve got it often send mixed messages to children.
4 is very young to understand gratitude as well as ‘enough’. But I do have a few things that have worked well with our kiddos (ages 4, 6.5, 9, and 10.5)
First, we give them an allowance – this is NOT for doing chores, but rather for being part of the family (DH and I get an ‘allowance’ also). Because they get an allowance, they always have their own money to spend (or save, or run out of).
sometimes I do ask for help with things that aren’t ‘their chores’ when I do, then I pay them for helping. Some chores are theirs (putting their own clothes away, tidying the table, simple things, but theirs to do), but sometimes I’d like help with something – like measuring and cutting string for a project – they can do the job, so they do and I pay them. They can chose to work and earn, or choose not to.
When out, I only buy them stuff if they have their own money. I don’t make them carry money – but it needs to be in their bank account or piggy bank to pay when we get home. Also because of the state our home gets I also require them to have a place to put the item when it comes home – we don’t have room for things to be brought home and tossed on the floor.
Sometimes there is sadness they can’t get something. That’s okay. I don’t try to change the sadness, I empathize and often talk about things I’d like and wasn’t able to get as soon as I wanted. They can be sad without me taking it personally.
Ryan and I talk often about things we’d like, especially things we wait to purchase. For instance my fitbit is falling apart, I’d like to replace it with an Apple watch – I don’t have that money saved from my ‘allowance’ so I’m waiting. Instead I figured out a solution to make my Fitbit last longer while I save. I added a chart to the wall to help me keep track of how far I’ve come and how far I need to go. When I need to decide if I want to buy something else, I talk about my decision out loud, “I’d really like this dress, but summer’s almost over, so I won’t have a lot of opportunity to wear it soon, I think I’d like the watch more than the dress.” Watching me work through this helps them develop their own tools to work through their own decisions.
As a family we practice daily gratitude. I posted about that previously here. Since then we’ve shifted slightly to incorporate a few different ideas into a smaller amount of wall space. In order to track our goals and to-do lists, to help children know what’s coming each week, to have a space for all family members to make notes about things they’d like to do, experiences they’d like to have, as well as jot down our daily gratitude we now use this system:
Each person has their own page for goals, notes, and gratitude. As a family we use the weekly calendar to keep track of what’s happening each week. We hope this’ll help even the smallest family members know what’s happening each week and communicate their needs and wants to us!