I wrote this article for Homemakers for American and they didn't end up using it.. so I'm going to publish it here and hope it's helpful to someone...
In the age of Entitlement, Gratitude is a Princely Grace: 10 Ways to make Gratitude Part of Your Childrens Lives
One of my husband’s professors in business school related a story about boarding a big city train with his large family. He was asked, "Are ALL of these children yours?" He answered that they were. "In a world of finite resources, how can you in good conscience have so many children?" The professor answered back, "We teach our children to contribute more than they consume." In an age of entitlement, that is the answer to many of society’s ills. But, how do you do that. Here are a few things that worked in my family growing up that I am trying hard to teach my own children.
1. Teach your children to love books. My mother and father read to us often. My mother preferred to read us large format stories with amazing pictures by talented artists. All of my mother’s children are art lovers. We loved horses, my dad read us books about horses: The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka and Black Beauty. My Dad also loved the great poets and introduced us to Kipling, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Frost and others. When I was little, my parents weren’t rich, but we were surrounded by great books and so we had the world at our finger tips even though we lived in a very small town. We were introduced to other cultures and ideas and we knew what real poverty looked like. I remember coming home from the school library with a teen romance and having my dad send it right back to be replaced by books like The Hiding Place, The Robe, and books by James Michener and Irving Stone. I learned from those books about history and great writing and about courage and loyalty and other great values. I’ve noticed that many of the books on the current school list are quite light some of these consequential themes.
2. Be vigilant about the media you allow in your home. Children do not understand that the point of a program like The Simpsons is to make fun of bad behavior. Children will see you laughing and they will imitate that behavior. Bart is banned in my home as is Shrek and anyone else with bad manners or poor morals. Sponge Bob.. NO! I don’t expect that characters in books, music or film will always make right choices, that’s not art reflecting life, but I don’t allow media in my home that is not honest about the consequences of wrong choices. Children need to know that consequences always follow choices. In addition to the moral depravity you will keep away from your children, you will also keep them from advertisers who are anxious to tell them they can’t live without this or that thing.
3. Teach your children about money. I don’t believe in allowances. Out in the world, you don’t get an allowance, but I also don’t pay my children for every little thing they do. I don’t get paid for every little thing I do either. Some jobs we do just because we are part of a family and it takes efforts by everyone to make things run smoothly. After a certain age, children should be responsible for their own things. But, I also believe there should be ample opportunities for children to earn money of their own. When they are old enough to earn their own money, they should also be taught to manage it. What percentage should be saved? What can be spent? AND, what should be donated? Yes. I believe that children should learn to tithe. They should give 10 percent back to the Lord. If they don’t belong to a church, there are other ways they can learn to give, but a portion of what they earn should be given back in some way. I suggest ten percent. They should be taught to be charitable by example.
4. Teach your children to be grateful. This is pretty easy I think. If you are grateful, if you use the words "please" and "thank you" even when speaking to them, they will use those words as well. Count your blessings and teach your children to count theirs. Remember people in conversation who have helped you during the day, "Wasn’t it kind of that man to open our door?" Mention to your children how grateful you are for your home, for your church for your country and they will feel those things too.
5. Give your children yourself rather than toys or things. Nothing creates a brat faster than a child who is given stuff rather than attention. Nothing makes a child feel more special that a date with dad for ice cream. When I was little, I thought my dad loved pushing us in the swings more than anything else in life. Every once in a while my mom would say, "It’s your day, we can do whatever you want." Those words still make me happy.
6. Teach your children to admire the wonders of nature. My parents are not campers or outdoorsy in any way, but my dad loves his vegetable garden the pretty songbirds that visited our backyard, the sunsets and the stars. My mother loves the mountains, the flowers and the change of seasons. Growing up they often commented on these things and brought them to our attention and made us feel and acknowledge the wonder of the beauty around us.
7. Teach your children to have great joy in simple things. My grandfather always anticipates seasonal produce. He loves to stop and buy the cherries from a local grower, get the Vidalia Onions just as they come to market and buy the pick-your-own fresh peaches to make a pie. If you can’t be excited about the first bite of a new fall apple, you are missing something great in life. But, my point... there is something wonderful to celebrate everyday. Learn to be giddy about peaches and you’ll have a pretty happy life.
8. Learn to be patient. No one is above experiencing traffic, spilled milk, long lines and other minor irritations. Don’t make a big deal out of these things and the kids won’t either. Impatience is a lack of gratitude.
9. Don’t be afraid to discipline, but don’t yell and don’t hit. The point of discipline is to teach a child to discipline him or herself. If your kid doesn’t unload the dishwasher and you choose to ignore it, you aren’t doing the child a favor, When a child grows up and they don’t do their work... their boss will fire them. Families should be a training ground to make children ready to care for themselves and others. Allowing a child not to follow through teaches them that they are somehow entitled.
10. Love them. Let them know that they are loved, valued and appreciated and they will learn to love, value and appreciate others.
In my family now and growing up. These are some of the things that made a difference. I grew up in a family of seven children. All of my siblings have become people I admire and are people who contribute more than they consume.