It was a gray, rainy day that came with one of those drastic weather changes. I was making dinner when I realized I’d scarcely sat down all day, and I could feel an impending migraine growing. Dinner was in the oven and I was simply waiting, so I dashed to the medicine cabinet to try and ward off this evil. The kids were playing nicely, so I laid down for just a minute to rest until the timer let me know dinner was ready. Approximately fourteen seconds later, my four-year-old barged into my room and yelled at me, “Mommy! I’m hungry! Why are you laying down?! Make dinner!”
My husband just happened to walk in at just this moment, so we got to have a nice family chat on how we talk to people and a reminder about using kind words. My little guy felt sorry, and he learned that hard lesson of not always knowing everyone’s circumstances. But I learned a hard lesson too: my kiddos had become entitled, right under my nose.
This time of year brings its own special challenges, from the time constraints of fitting more activities into the same amount of time, to having family members near and far ask them what they want for Christmas. When you’re constantly being asked what you want, it’s natural to become a little entitled.
So how can we keep expectations and attitudes in check, this time of year and in every other season?
The Gift of Gratitude
It just so happened that the whole migraine-child-dinner-meltdown happened in late October. So we began a new dinner time tradition. In addition to discussing our highs and lows of our day, we added a moment of gratitude. It was couched in an explanation about how Thanksgiving is the day we’ve set aside as a nation to give thanks, but how we can and should also be grateful for what we have every day. It took a few days, but our four- and six-year-old children began to learn that we have a lot to be grateful for, from a roof over our heads to food on the table to shoes to protect our feet. My husband and I tried to pick big picture things they may take for granted, while also mentioning specific actions people had taken to make our day better.
I want, I want, I want… There are so many phrases that are like nails to a chalkboard for parents, and I want has become one of mine. I started trying to model a different approach: I would like. I would like is a simple phrase change that sounds less demanding, more inquisitive, and is more of a request than a demand. It sets an expectation as well: I would like this, but I’m not guaranteed to have it. It’s a small mindset shift, and just generally nice to have a break from the I wants.
Our plan is, so far, working. We still have moments of struggling with entitlement, and we’re still having the holiday discussion centered around giving rather than receiving. We’re trying to set reasonable expectations so they aren’t disappointed at not getting everything they asked for, but being grateful for what they do receive.
With holidays, we’ve tried to encourage the joy of giving by helping them select thoughtful gifts to donate and to give to family members and then teaching them to wrap them. They’ve grown more excited to give the gifts they chose, which is a joyous thing to witness.