Raising grateful and responsible children is increasingly more difficult in this world of instant gratification and entitlement. One of my favorite movies is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. One of the characters, Veruca Salt, is the epitome of what an ungrateful child looks like. Even as a kid, I disliked her immensely. And her character always made me wonder who would ever raise a child to act like that? And why would a parent ever end up giving their child every single thing they want?
Well, it’s easy to judge when you do not have any children of your own. But for many parents, once they fall in love with their child, they may find it easier than they ever imagined to give them all the things that make them happy. Not because they want them spoiled, but because they love them. But sometimes, determining the difference between showing love and giving excessively can get blurry. And while giving to our children is not necessarily bad, in excess, it can become an entitlement, which is what every parent seems to fear.
So how do we stop it? How do we prevent ourselves from raising kids who feel the world owes them something? Well, there are two very helpful antidotes: gratitude and responsibility. Responsibility increases gratitude. And when gratitude increases, entitlement decreases. So as parents, we want to focus on helping implement strategies at home that focus on these.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to raise grateful and responsible children:
Implement Ownership Around the House
The concept of chores has been around forever. And there are different camps on the best way a chore should be assigned—for payment or without. But whatever your family decides, teaching your child to contribute to the family household is a great way to teach responsibility. Parents often get caught up in how well a child is doing a task. But they forget that the point of the chore is more about teaching the child what they are capable of, too. (Not that they will fold the laundry to a parent’s standards. Because they will not, much to my dismay!) However, the more they see they are capable of, the more self-esteem they develop, leading to taking ownership of their decisions and increased responsibility.
Teach Dinnertime Gratitude
Dinnertime is a great way to reconnect with the family. And the older children get, the more crucial it becomes. But it’s also a great time to reset your focus as a family too. Instead of just generically talking about your days, ask your children specific questions centered around things that have gone well for them. Instead of, “What was the best part of your day?” ask, “What is one thing someone did for you today that was nice?” This small change in a question helps change their mind to be focused on gratitude. It also encourages you to have a conversation about why someone did what they did. “Wow, that was very nice of your teacher to give everyone in class extra recess. Maybe she wanted to show you all that she cared for you! Maybe next time she does, hug her and tell her thank you!”
Say No So They Experience Waiting for Something
We often say yes to simple things our children ask for just because we can:
“Mom, can we drive through McDonald’s?” Sure.
“Mom, do you mind if I get that swimsuit?” Sure.
“Mom, can I go to this sports camp?” I guess so.
Our answer is often YES. But when a child never hears no, they begin to think they always get what they want. And they never learn the skill of having to wait on something they want or not getting something that sounds fun. And if you always get what you want, it’s hard to appreciate what you’ve been given. So as parents, we want to say no sometimes so that our children feel thankfulness when we do say YES. It seems simple, but it can be profound. You can even say, “I can say yes to that, but sometimes it’s good to wait for things we want. So I’m going to say no because I love you.”
Write Thank You Notes
This is one of my all-time favorite methods for increasing gratitude. Have your child get in the habit of writing handwritten thank you notes for presents they receive or when an adult does something nice for them. If they are too little to write, have them make a handprint or a scribble. This is NOT about the person on the other end expecting a thank you. Instead, it’s about teaching your child to look for opportunities to show gratitude. The more we focus our minds on noticing how blessed we are, the more we feel it in our hearts.
Model and Teach Ownership of Mistakes
Last, it’s strange to say that recognizing fault within ourselves is a way to increase responsibility, but it is. It teaches us (and our children) to be responsible for their actions or have accountability. And entitled children tend to struggle with noticing when they are in the wrong. Instead of, I made a mistake, it’s “You made me…” So an easy way to help is to take responsibility when we mess up in front of them. If your children haven’t seen you apologize, how will they think it’s a safe thing to do? When we model saying I am sorry, they see the value in saying they’ve made a mistake too! Then step in when they need to apologize and talk about how even adults have to admit mistakes.
I hope some of these tips can help you discover the best way to raise grateful and responsible children. Let us know if one of these particularly hits home with you!