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How to Teach Kids Family Values

Let’s begin with gratitude.

by Jeanne Sager

November 23, 2009

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Cake time came and went, followed by pin the tail on the donkey and bat the piñata around Dad’s head. And still, I waited.

My daughter was eyeing the Sesame Street wrapped package she’d proudly placed on the far edge of the present table. The tangled wad of tape where she’d “helped” just barely covered the word “dinosaur.”

“When is present time?” I whispered to the lucky little boy’s mom. She looked aghast. “Um, we don’t want Little Timmy [name changed to protect the rude] to look at his birthday like it’s all about the gifts,” she said. “You know, we prefer him to value giving over receiving.”

Thus heralded my introduction to the “no opening gifts” party, to be followed as my daughter entered preschool by a steady mix of more of the same, interspersed with the “no gifts, please bring a donation to [insert your charity here].”

I admit I’d prefer a little bit of value for receiving. I have yet to receive a thank you note from one of those parties. It turns out raising a giving child doesn’t naturally beget raising a thankful one.

“You would think they go on the same empathy line,” says Amy Dworetsky, a child psychologist who works with adolescents in upstate New York. “But look at it developmentally, and forcing them to give is going against every developmental thread in their body. Kids under five are very egocentric. They’re me, me, me.”

In other words – they aren’t learning to enjoy or even value giving. They’re doing it begrudgingly.

Thank you, on the other hand, is something that can be taught from a very young age and quickly becomes second nature. Research shows the feeling it implies – gratitude – will follow, but does not become a fully developed part of a child’s personality until age five or six.

“For children and parents, receiving should not be about the actual receiving but rather about learning the delicate skill of being gracious,” says Megan Jordan, a mother of three from Gulfport, Mississippi and editor-in-chief of BlogNosh. “So what if your kid has a million toys and you’d rather her guests donate to the Humane Society? I’m betting your kid could use some honing of her ‘receiving’ skills. And yeah, that may mean receiving her fortieth My Little Pony. Deal with it, kid. And do it by showing gratitude and thankfulness even though you already have nine of that color.”

Jordan is aware her kids are still young, but she is attempting to give her elder children – boys, three and five – early cues to balance out materialism. It’s not about the object received at a holiday, she tells them, but the fact that someone was kind enough to give it.

How to Teach Kids Family Values

Let’s begin with gratitude.

by Jeanne Sager

November 23, 2009

400x236.jpg

“I tell them, ‘If you get the same present, you say something about how awesome it is that you have a back-up now or something similar’,” she explains.

Despite parents’ push to move the toys out and turn off the materialistic faucet, it turns out “stuff” isn’t necessarily so bad for kids either. A Harris Interactive survey of more than 1,200 kids between the ages of eight and eighteen found kids who were grateful for what they had were also more generous, even if they were fairly materialistic. The child who sits at a holiday function screaming, “Presents, presents, presents!” and ripping through each box is not learning to be thankful, Dworetsky allows. “My kids have a lot of stuff, it makes me crazy,” she said with a laugh. “But if they appreciate where it came from, and they acknowledge where it came from, that stuff is a teaching tool.”

What’s more, the experts say the exchange of material goods, including holiday extravaganzas with the kids, can offer lessons in thankfulness even when the kids receive something they don’t care for or simply don’t get that much-wanted Xbox. Kids learn social nuances: how to be grateful that someone else did something for them (in this case, buy a gift) and how to express thankfulness rather than regret.

Parenting Advice: 3 Tips for Teaching Kids Gratitude.

1. Make sure they recognize the benefit they received from another person. For example, the giraffe sweater Grandpa bought them for their birthday.

2. Associate your child’s precursor to gratitude (like a smile or a big hug) with the benefit they received.

3. Once they associate happiness with a benefit, they’ll begin to exhibit gracious actions like saying thank you.

– From Todd Kashan, PhD., author of the new book Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. “Kids have to learn not everything is equal,” Todd Kashdan, PhD., a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax University explains. “You can only control fifty percent of a social reaction. Short-term pain is a great tool, it teaches kids to be flexible in different situations.”

It’s a means to move young children out of a me-centered world, something they’re generally ready to face by kindergarten. And gracious kids, it turns out, are better equipped for school. A 2008 study by professors at the University of California, Davis and Hofstra University linked “children who practice grateful thinking” to better attitudes toward school and family life.

“The research on gratitude shows better health and mental health outcomes for persons who are higher in gratitude, and that gratitude is something that can be cultivated (e.g. journaling something each day for which one is grateful),” explains Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. “These are easy skills to build in kids. In my home at dinner, when my children are with me, we play the highs and lows game. Each of us shares the high and low point of our day and then reflect on what we learned from these things. It forces us to take stock of our days, and realize that even the low stuff represents a salient and useful learning experience.”

How to Teach Kids Family Values

Let’s begin with gratitude.

by Jeanne Sager

November 23, 2009

400x236.jpg

Even with gratitude there can be too much of a good thing. Like the no-gift parties, experts warn against pushing kids too hard to be “thankful.” If a two-year-old is terrified of the giver, a well-meaning parent who suggests again and again that the child bestow a kiss as thanks is connecting thank you with an old man with bad breath and bristly whiskers. Would you want to say thank you again? Likewise it’s wise to avoid a tit-for-tat situation, in which a child is taught that they need to reciprocate for each and every gift. Who can be grateful when they’re too busy focusing on keeping score?

“If we feel that there’s a sense of duty or obligation that we have to do something in return, it can negate the affects of gratitude,” Kashdan explains.

Parenting Advice: 3 Tips for Teaching Kids Gratitude.

1. Make sure they recognize the benefit they received from another person. For example, the giraffe sweater Grandpa bought them for their birthday.

2. Associate your child’s precursor to gratitude (like a smile or a big hug) with the benefit they received.

3. Once they associate happiness with a benefit, they’ll begin to exhibit gracious actions like saying thank you.

– From Todd Kashan, PhD., author of the new book Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. In terms of gifts, Kashdan suggests cuing children into their own examination of why they should be grateful. For example, at a holiday gathering, he’ll ask his twins to think of reasons why a particular item received is useful or why they like it. Learning to appreciate the value is part of those three steps to gratitude – recognizing a benefit was received. Saying thank you, of course, comes next.

When nothing else works, go with the age-old adage. Practice what you preach.

“As with so many related issues – for example raising children who are respectful of diversity, generous, etc., – children do most of their learning through modeling,” says Durvasula. “Unfortunately, most parents use a ‘do as I say not as I do’ model – and that doesn’t work. It is incumbent on the parents to model lives that model gratitude – taking time to be grateful for a gift, an unusual experience (e.g. a rainbow), a friend – and for the children to observe this as a part of daily life.”

Even if your child just got her fortieth My Little Pony.

Find more:

Thanksgiving 2009 Special Issue

Top Ten Holiday Sanity-Savers

Thanksgiving with Tom Colicchio

Thanksgiving Discounts and Deals

This article was written by Jeanne Sager for Babble.com, the magazine and community for a new generation of parents.

Article Posted 6 years Ago
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