Teaching children gratitude

15 Aug

Baby Beez will be turning 1 on Labor Day.  With her upcoming birthday party, I’ve been fielding questions left and right asking “What does she want for her birthday?”

Before I get into the more thoughtful questions, Mr. Beez and I are getting Baby Beez this awesome dino scooter for her birthday.  I’m totally excited about it.  Posting it here doesn’t ruin the surprise. She can’t read. Or use the internet. I think.

This question is so much trickier than it looks. There’s the obvious issue of how you determine what a pre-verbal infant “wants” (or if she wants, or is even capable of wanting anything), but that’s the least of my worries since it’s pretty obvious she’d be happy with anything. Actually, she’d be the most happy with a Costco pack of Kleenex that she can pull and pull and pull out of the box. Or a basket of clean, folded laundry. She’s a champ at destroying that. We are fortunate in that she really does have everything she needs.  The only things that I could think of that she could really use (a sandbox, and baby gates) were quickly picked up by other family members.  The child doesn’t want for anything.

The harder issue is that I want to teach her gratitude.  I want her to learn that she should not expect gifts, and that she should be thankful for what she has.  Gratitude is too abstract for her to master for a long time, but we need to start laying the foundation for it now with appropriate conduct.  This is sometimes very hard for me, because I know that I have a very bad habit of spoiling her.  It’s not uncommon that we’ll be walking through a store and something colorful will catch her attention, and then I buy it for her because she likes it.  She’s too young to ask for anything, and she wouldn’t know the difference if I didn’t buy those random toys for her.  This bad habit is completely my fault and I need to knock it off before it fosters bad behavior.

I read this article about teaching gratitude, and I’ve never been entirely convinced that forcing your kid to eat scraped toast because there are starving Armenians is an effective method to teach gratitude.  It is absolutely worthwhile to be conscious of suffering in the world, and that there are others who don’t have as much.  You can teach about these issues separately, and appropriately.  Looking to the suffering of others to justify your own satisfaction troubles me.  I feel like there has to be some way to teach gratitude without relying on “At least you’re not so-and-so, they have it so much worse.”  If you have this answer, I’m all ears.

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