Teach kids the value of gratitude beyond a ‘thank you’

Just because your distracted kid has muttered a forced “thank you” after you’ve reminded him, doesn’t mean he’s thankful at all.

By Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri

With children, the argument of Nature versus Nurture is a balance that is constantly tilting one way or the other. Gratitude though, most psychologists agree, is learnt and not inherent in nature. To be grateful for being, for having and for giving is a powerful lifestyle that often requires a great deal of humility from the parents — beyond the confines of customary greetings.

Let’s be clear: just because your distracted kid has muttered a forced Thank You after you’ve reminded him, doesn’t mean he’s thankful at all.

We spend far too much of our time reiterating to our children what are the right things to say at the right situations. Undoubtedly this is a great endeavour, but we spend far too little time inculcating a true sense of gratitude. Granted, children with good manners are polite and certainly a joy to have around compared to some insufferable kids. There’s far too little good manners going around these days.

Toddlers are naturally wired to be self-focused because they are the centre of their universe and everything else forms a relationship with them — their toys, their parents, their friends. That said, it doesn’t mean one cannot make them more sensitive to those around them, empathetic to those who do things for them, or remind them at every stage that their privileges are a product of a lot of people doing their bits selflessly for them.

To start with, one has to remove their precious offspring off the pedestal of entitlement. Did your child thank your chauffeur while alighting the car? Did they put their toys back in their shelves or thank their help for doing it? How do they remember to thank a restaurant waiter but not their domestic help? How do they know to rein it in when a friend’s parent is talking to them but mercilessly lash out at those they perceive as inferior to them? They are clearly creatures of habit, replicating the behaviour and hypocrisies they see around them.

Children today don’t need to work for anything. Everything from their parents’ free time to their presents are just given to them. Obviously, they’re going to grow up feeling that everyone around them owes them something. No, they don’t. Nobody “needs” to do anything for you. There have been children—who obviously overheard this from boorish parents—who have said that their maids or drivers are “paid” to do their work and so they aren’t doing anyone a favour.

Also Read: The world needs less bullies, teach your kids empathy

Most of us do not need our children to put their plates in the sink after a meal or pack their dry snack boxes for school. In fact, watching them do a poor job of it makes every bit of our control freak nature jump to the fore. But by letting our children do these things, we introduce them to the various cogwheels at work that let them enjoy the various privileges that they do.

They have got to be trained to see that all those things they enjoy at home, materialistic or otherwise, are because someone, somewhere has done their bit to ensure that they enjoy moment of satisfaction. Someone has earned that money, someone has woken up early for them or someone forfeited their slice of cake.

Back in the day, our parents were the most important people in the house…and in the Indian setup, usually a grandparent who still lives with the young family. Even within a nuclear setup, the understanding has always been that parents determine the rules, the boundaries and the priorities of the household.

How on earth did children start wielding so much power on our schedules, our mind spaces and our lives? How are their wants put ahead of their parents’ needs to sustain a lifestyle where they’re accustomed to taking without giving? Since when did the youngest members in the house start calling the shots? It was bad enough that Indian mothers-in-law wanted their poorly raised (replace with usual adjectives like entitled/chauvinistic) sons to be corrected by their wives, and now these very wives are perpetuating a cycle of dysfunctional living!

The greatest disservice we can do to our children is making them feel entitled to our time, our space and our wealth. Get the focus off of them, or at least pretend to do so. They will thank you for it in the years to come.

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