How to Raise Grateful, Respectful Kids
Parenting is hard. It’s even harder after you have a child or two. There are the physical aspects, helping our children learn to sleep, potty training them, teaching them about hygiene. I think most parents with a few years of parenting under their belts would agree these are the (relatively) easy things to teach. But what about kindness and respect and gratefulness? How do we teach those and what are our measures of success?
Believe me, I don’t consider myself an expert on parenting. I do consider myself a person with a lot of experience. I have been parenting for over 20 years and have raised three children from birth to adulthood and am currently parenting four teens and four younger kids. Here is what I know.
The One Observation That Shaped My Parenting Philosophy
When I was an older teen I babysat a lot and I observed something that literally shaped my parenting philosophy. The life-shattering observation? Kids love juice and you don’t have to convince them to drink it. But water? Many of the kids I babysat refused to even take a sip of water. How did this shape my entire parenting philosophy? I thought to myself…kids like juice because it is sweet. If they never taste juice, they don’t know what they’re missing. When I have kids I am not going to give them juice. Once they are older and recognize and love water as a regular form of hydration, then I’ll introduce juice.
I know, I know, there is more to parenting than drinking water instead of juice. But it set me on a path, a path that science now backs up.
“Behavioral research shows that humans can become acclimated to almost anything if they’re exposed to it frequently…What does this mean for kids and parents? Anything we provide or do regularly will become the new norm, whether it’s postgame milkshakes or a certain brand of clothes. And not doing things can also become a norm: If our kids have gotten used to having their beds made or dinner table set, they’ll come to expect that, too.”
My children learned to drink water and didn’t try juice until they were 4 or 5 and then it was only on occasion. The result? They enjoy juice when offered, but drink water day in and day out. No fights, no struggles.
I applied this concept to most of my parenting: Establish habits early on that you want to be the norm. Then deviate as a treat.
Keep expectations reasonable.
I remember being at the birthday party of a six-year-old who received seven Barbies in her mountain of presents. No child needs to receive seven Barbies all at once. I remember watching as she opened doll after doll (amid other gifts) and wondering how her parents would keep up with her expectations as she grew.
It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but children experience true gratitude when they don’t have everything they want. It isn’t having every dream and desire fulfilled that leads to feeling grateful, but knowing what it is like to go without. When a child has everything they want, they don’t feel grateful, they feel entitled. This isn’t just a childish response, it’s human nature.
We just went 30 hours without electricity. When our power came back on every person in this house was grateful for it. We didn’t need to sit our children down and lecture them on how to be thankful for electricity. Going without made us grateful.
My advice for raising grateful children? Don’t give them everything they want and make them work for ideas they desire.
How to Raise Respectful Children
Just this week I took a call from a woman who said, “I just have to tell you how amazed I am! I spoke to two of your children on the phone today and both were so polite and respectful. It made my day”.
I believe the most important part of raising respectful children is to teach them that they are not the center of the universe. There are other people in the world and those people are important and deserving of respect. In our house kids are not allowed to answer the phone until they can pick it up and say clearly, “Hello, you’ve reached the Bergerons”. The privilege of answering the phone is earned.
We teach our children to put others first. We teach them that they are to respect their elders. No, we don’t force them to hug people they are uncomfortable with, but we teach them to call adults Mr. and Mrs. It’s not the title that is important but the lesson, “Mr. and Mrs so and so are an adult so a child treats them with a different level of respect.” A common lesson in our house is, “You can do that with your friends (burping contests, rude noises, etc) but please don’t do that around me”.
We teach our children to give up their seat for adults and to let guests get their food first. We find opportunities for them to help others. From volunteering in the church nursery, helping a family move or volunteering overseas. We let them practice the art of helping others.
[By the way, we don’t talk about helping the “less fortunate” we talk about helping people.]
How Do You Know You’re Doing Parenting Right?
There are no guarantees in parenting. We can do our best, but in the end, our children are humans who grow up to make their own decisions. In the short eighteen or so years we have them in our homes we have the opportunity to teach them. There are a few ways to spot check your parenting.
How do your children act around others?
After your kids have spent time at their friends’ homes, do you hear, “Johnny was so polite, he’s welcome here any time?” If so, you’re doing it right. Nevermind that Johnny grumbles about taking out the garbage and complains about cleaning his room. If he has the skills to be a good guest, you are doing something right.
Can your child put others first?
Is your child willing to give up the last cookie or let his friend go first? If not, find opportunities to practice this.
Is your child able to take no for an answer?
Can your child accept no? Can they lose without throwing a fit or getting angry? Are they able to defer their desires?
These are all good indications of how you are doing.
I am also a strong believer in letting your kids fail and not rushing in to fix things when they face disappointment. You might also enjoy Kristen Welch’s book Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World.
What are your thoughts? How do you teach gratefulness and respect in your home?