“Daddy, they put pickles on my hamburger!”
“Daddy, I wanted the red bike with shocks, not this black one…”
“Daddy, I can’t even get Wi-Fi here!”
“Daddy, this line up isn’t moving at all, Disneyworld sucks…”
I find myself saying one line over and over to my children, “Do you know how lucky you are?” – but I am beginning to realize that they really have no clue, no frame of reference, nothing to compare to so they can understand how lucky they really are. How lucky we all are…
How many of you have uttered this classic parenting line,
“… there are starving children in Africa that would love those green beans…”
The reality is that there are probably children right now, from your own neighbourhood, sitting beside your kids, going to school every morning on an empty stomach. This article isn’t so much about food; it’s much bigger than that. It is about a recent reality check that I experienced…
How do we, as parents, provide our children a frame of reference, so they begin to understand how lucky and privileged we are here in Canada?
Is it doing missions work in some faraway land?
Is it visiting local food banks and soup kitchens?
Is it watching infomercials with starving children surrounded by mud and flies?
I don’t know. I am struggling; struggling with how I can help my children develop an attitude of gratitude.
An attitude of gratitude is essential because it reduces self-pity and enables resilience and positivity to build in your children. Self-pity is a disease that will eliminate joy, reduce motivation and inhibit growth in youth and adults. Research shows that people who enjoy the small things in life and exercise an attitude of gratitude have improved productivity, self-esteem and an overall higher quality of life. We all want that for our children.
We live in a world of abundance, wealth, and ‘stuff’. From high quality schools and teachers to our amazing health care system, our children have the best of the best. Do they even know that?
I am beginning to realize that I must take responsibility for educating my children. They are how they are; living this life with a sense of entitlement, because of me, not because they are ingrates.
Gratitude needs to be taught and modeled like any other skill. If I was to be graded on my effectiveness as a parent to teach and guide on this topic, then I have bombed the midterm and need to cram for the final. My ‘stay-oblivious-head-in-the-sand’ ostrich technique is not serving me or my family.
From my days doing outreach ‘big brother’ work on a native reserve and running a childcare center in a small town, I know that not all children have happy safe childhoods. With family violence, addictions, poverty, alcohol abuse and neglect, I am not sure how some kids make it to school smiling everyday. But they do.
It’s not that I want my children to complain less, eat more, or constantly thank me for this life of privilege. But I can’t sugar coat and protect them from the fact that we live in a world of privilege and others are not as fortunate. Do I want my children to go to bed at night worried about the children starving in Africa? No, but yes. Where is the balance? What is the cost of being enlightened?
I believe that I, this Canadian dad, is only beginning to appreciate how blessed and fortunate I am to have family, health, and prosperity. I quickly run out of fingers and toes when I begin to count my blessings.
Do my children need to know how lucky they are? Absolutely. But how can I help them? THAT is my challenge… can you help?
Please share your thoughts on my blog at www.thedadvibe.com – I am really struggling and interested in how you may be helping your children develop their attitude of gratitude in an enlightened way. I want to write a follow up article with all of your great suggestions!
Until next time…
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Great Article Jeff,
In regards to our methods, we do not tell my kids who lucky they are. But we do talk about how much things costs, how much money we make each month, the cost of eating out versues eating at home, the choices we make and why, etc. We also talk about the kids they see at school that do not have adequate lunches, clothes, etc and the starving kids on television. Our kids seem to undertand how lucky they are without us having to tell them.
Keep up the good articles!
SO true — sometimes its what you do and not so much what you say!
From Sean Haughian — via Facebook…
Hey Jeff…scoured some websites for you and compiled some info to peruse….huf
How we and our Children can learn to give back…………
1. Have your children gather up any gently used toys they’ve outgrown or don’t play with anymore for donation. For younger children, this task can often be challenging. One successful strategy is to make two piles on the floor. Designate one as the “keep” pile and one as the “share” pile. Then set a goal together. For example, you might say “For every toy you place in the share pile, you can place three things in the keep pile.” Or whatever formula suits your individual situation.
2. Donate money to a charity. Research organizations and choose one or more that are important to you as a family. Try to make it personal to your child or children. If you’re animal lovers, consider helping the local pet shelter. If you know someone facing a health challenge, perhaps you could assist an organization that offers an associated treatment. By leaving the choice to your children, they can take more ownership and thus show more support of the project. They might even surprise you by contributing a small portion of their own money to the cause.
3. Volunteer your time. Collect canned goods for a food bank, read to young children, assist in a local soup kitchen, help run an activity at a nursing home, participate in a park clean-up or just help a friend in need. If applicable, you could make this effort a family activity where you spend the day working together all in the name of charity.
4. Attend and support a fundraising event as a family. For example, we just attended a Buddy Walk to support individuals with Down syndrome. My kids really liked the camaraderie that was felt during the walk. Find a cause that’s important to you or simply find an event that suits your family’s schedule in an online community calendar and then sign everybody up. There’s always something going on somewhere.
5. Adopt a family. There are many organizations that can match your family with another less fortunate, most often around the holiday season, and provide you with the information necessary to help (sizing, needs, special interests, etc.) Involve your children in the shopping, wrapping and, if possible, delivery of your donation.
You’re not going to get very far if you try to strip them of their hard-earned pennies right off the bat. A more realistic approach is to show them that the little things they already do are acts of giving. Smiling at someone on the street, sending a card to a friend and keeping a lonely relative company are all ways that they can help others. Another tip is to go through a simple closet cleanup. Helping your child gather a bag of clothes or toys they’ve outgrown for charity not only serves multiple purposes, but it’s an easy way to give back. And because kids grow so darn fast, it can be repeated several times throughout the year.
Toys, books, and stuffed animals. Go through your belongings and choose items that you no longer use but are in relatively good condition.
Time. We seem to have so little time these days. Busy is a four letter word in today’s world. It is important that we schedule time to give back to others. There are many ways that children can do participate.
Money. Perhaps donate a percentage of your allowance, birthday or Christmas money to a charitable organization.
Canned or boxed foods. Especially with the economy today, food banks are always low on food for the underprivileged. Help your child to organize a food drive for one of these organizations.
Opportunities for Giving Back
Reading to the elderly, ill, or very young.
School aged children who have already learned to read.
nursing homes, hospitals
Donating toys, stuffed animals, books
2 years +
women’s/children’s shelters, children’s hospitals, even less fortunate schools
church, non-profit organizations, any place that would have meaning to your child
Prepare food boxes for the less fortunate
4 or 5 years +
local food bank
7 years +
local soup kitchen or homeless shelter
This is a small list of ideas to help children get started in giving back.
It doesn’t really matter what you decide to do to get started, the point is to start. Compassion is something that is found in children naturally but can be lost if not fostered. By creating opportunities for your children to give back to others in some way, you are developing a sense of humanity in them. The more often that you provide and encourage these opportunities for them, the more natural that they will become for them as they grow into independent members of society. I know that those are the kind people that I want in the world around me.
Make a batch of smiles
Giving back doesn’t have to mean dragging your toddlers to a homeless shelter to serve hot meals to the hungry. Think about the people in your life that do good for your family (teachers, local police officers/firefighters, doctors, etc.), and talk to your child about doing something nice to thank them for their hard work in the community. A handmade card or a plate of homemade cookies is a small gesture of giving back that will send an important message to your child about giving thanks. It will also bring big smiles to the faces of your town’s local heroes.
Pick up litter
Clean up a park, shoreline, mountain, river, beach or wilderness area. Then take digital photos of what you’ve picked up. (If you can’t access a camera, this requirement can be waived.) Together have your family write an essay about your experience and send with your digital photo, your names, age(s) and address to email@example.com. Your essay will be published on the website, your children’s names will appear in the Registry of Apprentice Ecologists, and you will be awarded an official certificate. For tips on conducting the cleanup and writing the story, and to see the efforts of other “apprentice ecologists,” visit the Wilderness Project.
There are many ways you and your family can start this holiday season.
Helping children give back to the community teaches them compassion, initiative, and giving while assisting others in need. It’s important to help children recognize that there are people in their own community who are less fortunate than themselves, and that they have the power to make a difference.
Choosing a few activities each year to do alongside your child will instill a sense of pride and work ethic in you both!
Donate toys – Kids often get toys as gifts for their birthday or other holidays, and it’s not unusual for those toys to get played with twice before getting tucked away and forgotten about. Sit down with your child, help him sort through his toys, and then pick out a few gently used ones to donate to your local shelter. Kids may feel like they have very little to give someone else, but by giving away some of their toys they will feel like they have made a difference in the life of another child.
Volunteer – By volunteering at a soup kitchen or local food pantry children will have the opportunity to interact with those that they are helping. Seeing and interacting with the people who they are helping will help kids to recognize that they are making a difference in the lives of real people.
Pick up trash – Find a local park or playground and walk around and pick up trash in the area. Kids will gain a sense pride as they help care for their community by doing so.
Visit a nursing home – Senior citizens who are in nursing homes love to have visitors. Your child can do simple activities with the residents, such as coloring, reading them a book, telling them a story, or playing a simple game with them. Oftentimes, residents don’t have family around them to visit, so a visit from your child will make their day!
Shovel a sidewalk or rake a yard – Help your child shovel or rake the yard of a neighbor who is having trouble doing so on his own.
Donate books – Literacy in children translates directly to success as adults. Have your child select a few new or used books to donate to a local literacy program. Having them write a short note inside the book will make it a more personal gift for both receiver and the giver.
Raise money for a local charity – Have a lemonade stand, an art show or a bake sale to raise money for a local charity. The kids can be in charge of making the goods, creating the signs, setting up, and running the event. If possible, they should make their donation in person.
Plant a tree – Many local outdoor organizations put together an annual tree-planting event; all you have to do is show up on the day of the event and provide the planting power!
9.Collect goods for a shelter – Many shelters need basic goods such as food, personal hygiene items, diapers, formula, basic toys, towels and other necessities. Kids can collect items from family and neighbors and donate it to your local shelter.
10. Cook a meal for a family in need – Most kids love to cook! Have the kids assist you in cooking a meal for a family in your area that’s having a rough time.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do it along side your child. By participating in these activities with your child you will create a moment of bonding while making an impact on your community together.
Wow Sean! Thanks for all the insights and work — now get back to your kids!!
Love the thoughts as always!!
Ria Hayden via FACEBOOK…
Great article and so true Jeff! We moved our children half way around the world when they were 13, 12, 11,9 years of age. We lived in a foreign land for 3 years. It wasn’t ‘poor’ by any standards but people live so much different…much smaller homes…several generations in the same home and everything was FAR more expensive. I don’t think that’s what it takes but it surely did help them appreciate how fortunate we are here.I do believe it comes from we as parents…. unfortunately I grew up in a complaining household and even though I’ve improved on that I sure could have done a LOT better! Is it pointing out the ‘positive’ of every negative? Is it teaching our children to look beyond the immediate gratification and to look at the long term? The opportunity for our children to travel to less fortunate countries is far more accessible now than it was for us when we were young and it surely will not hurt them. I know two of my children did missions trips to Mexico and I believe it affected them for the good…… Sorry for the ‘book’ answer LOL
Thanks so much for the insights — I love your books! Your notiun of looking long term might be a whole other article. I hope my children will have a chance to travel, but if not, I think there are lots of opportunities for growth right here at home… it’s so tricky to preach how lucky we are eh?
I actually added your kind thoughts right to my website to keep this conversation rolling! Thanks again!
Go to rememberance day celebrations and explain what they mean. Support a child sponsorship program in another country. you will get the opportuntiy to share stories, photos and art with someone you are helping. Your kids will relate and participate. I just had the opportunity to find out and those sentimental things are cherished even more than aid. Teach kids to notice their surroundings and answer their questions about those less fortunate. Set a family goal such as a donation to a charitable organization and work towards it. Donate stuffies to the local ER. We have found out all our kids learn and understand empathy differently so we’ve needed to make our discussions age and child appropriate.
Incredible insights — thanks so much! I will definitely try some of these — especially the family goal!