A couple weeks ago, I sat in on my daughter’s first day of school and listened to the teacher as she described the rules for her class. I snoozed through half the lecture, not needing to hear the rules about using the bathroom, raising your hand, yada yada, until she got to the last one: the cell phone rule.
This is fourth grade.
No cell phones allowed. Leave them in the back pack, turned off. Or leave them at home.
Man, that got sighs and eye-rolls and (practically) tears. In fourth grade.
More than half the class has cell phones. Not just cell phones, either. These kids are packing top of the line smartphones. This is definitely a sign of the times. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those kids having phones. In fact, on the way out, I heard one classmate use a voice-to-text to tell his mom, “I’m walking home now.” I wonder, though, did he do anything to earn the phone? Or does he appreciate the phone?
Don’t get me wrong – our son has a smart phone (an iPhone, to be exact). What’s great about this is it’s our biggest piece of leverage we have with him. He loves his phone and the second we make the threat (to take it away), whatever the issue is, it’s fixed. Of course, we’ve also taken the kids to an “old-school” pay phone, one we searched high and low for, and made them call us. Our daughter almost vomited from whatever sticky mess was on the mouth piece of the phone. Thank God our son is a numbers wiz because he actually had several phone numbers memorized. They needed lessons on how to put the money in (like a candy machine) and then what to do. “You push the buttons…like a cell phone. Hello!” They couldn’t understand the concept, hence, their instantly renewed gratitude for the cell phone.
“Please, Mom,” my 13-year-old son said, “I’ll do any chore. Just never make me call from one of these again.”
Okay, so the lesson wasn’t exactly torture (minus the three required hand washing sessions because both my kids are heart patients and therefore not equipped with the best immune systems), but it did the trick. It was one of the daily, weekly or monthly lessons in gratitude I so love to spring on them.
I will say this: I have a slight benefit in this over-entitled world. My kids were born with chronic illnesses. They’ll never have it “easy”. They’ve learned the hard way not to take things for granted. There’s times when they’ve been so sick, we worried about living. Period. There’s not a lot of BIG things we take for granted. I find, though, like normal kids in the 21st century, they tend to take some of the little things for granted. So how do I make sure this doesn’t happen?
1. Be a role model.
I work hard every day not to take things for granted. I teach gratitude by showing my own gratitude. You shouldn’t need to on the brink of death or have had something happen to realize how important people or things are in your life, or how lucky you are. If you don’t take things for granted, neither will your kids.
2. It’s always a WIP (Work In Progress).
Learning gratitude is something that never stops. You must always take the time to be grateful for what you have and the people in your life.
3. Choose just one thing and practice.
You can’t expect entitled 21st century kids to change their spots in a day. Choose one item or one person to focus on and pick one activity to show how grateful you are for that choice. Make a list of things you like about that person. Write a thank you note for the item you received.
4. Thank your children.
Again, when you model gratitude, you’re teaching them the behavior. If they do something right or complete a task without being asked, thank them. They’re human, too. They like to be appreciated. When you appreciate them it teaches them to appreciate you.
5. Teach them about freedom.
Regardless of your political beliefs, and without spouting off your ideas about politicians, teach your children about the freedom they are awarded in this country. Remind them regularly to be grateful for that freedom. It’s a privilege.
6. Ask them to give back.
By asking them, you’re putting the ball in their court. See what ideas they come up with. Kids are more prone to commit, follow through and understand, when they come up with the ideas themselves. It can be as simple as giving flowers to a neighbor or as detailed as planning a large toy drive for a local hospital.
7. Teach the fine art of thank you notes.
Make sure you always have thank you notes on-hand. Teach them how to write a basic, age-appropriate thank you note. Be sure to write it and send it in a timely manner. Even better, make sure you’re sending thank you notes. Yes, even as an adult. Practice what you preach. (Not e-mail or text, either.)
8. Change “entitled behavior” at that moment.
Use an entitled behavior action as a teachable moment. Turn it around. Teach your child at that moment what’s truly important. Ask them what’s important and why they deserve something. Nip it in the bud right then and there.
9. Look at the little things with new eyes.
Point out the smaller things and talk about them. Clean water. Food on the table. Clothes on your backs. Toys to play with. Friends. Smartphones! Point out the obvious and the not-so-obvious and teach your kids to be grateful for all these things.
10. Entitlement is learned. Don’t teach that subject.
Look, nobody wants spoiled brats. (Think Veruka Salt from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.) Teaching kids not to take things for granted seems easy, but it takes a little work every single day. Make sure you wear your gratitude glasses every day because you’re kids are not only learning from your words, but from your behavior as well.
Featured photo credit: Carissa Rogers via flickr.com