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How do I teach GRATITUDE to my 9-year-old daughter?
September 2, 2008 4:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I teach GRATITUDE to my 9-year-old daughter?

I like to think that we raise our children with a sense of the world around them, and with the specific knowledge that they are lucky to have the things that they do. They never want for anything (though we hardly give them everything).

We're lucky enough to be able to manage to send them to private school. They get the clothes and toys they need, and some that they want. My younger daughter is always thinking of others. "How are you feeling, Mom?" "I should make a card for Grandma." It's a great trait and makes her that much more lovable.

My older one seems to subscribe to the view that the world revolves around her. I understand that children are, by their very nature, self-preservationists, and it's partially genetic. But somewhere in there has got to be a kid who starts to think of other people. Nothing I've tried seems to work. I'm close to tromping through the city with her and feeding the homeless just to see if it would give her a sense of gratitude.

Today, the latest, hardly atypical episode... complaining about not getting everything she wanted even during shopping for her back-to-school stuff ... not just threatening, but actually taking back the stuff we bought (as we've done before, on occasion) does not seem to help. We subscribe to the "natural consequences" school of child-rearing, but this one has me stumped.

There has to be a way to get it through that head of hers.
posted by VeniceGlass to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
We subscribe to the "natural consequences" school of child-rearing

This is good, so I'd say keep on with that. Having gone at least nine years, you already know it's not going to be an overnight process.

My one suggestion would be to make the lines even more clear. At the hint of any complaining, you just have to hit them with hard-and-fast statement. "Clearly, my efforts in doing XYZ have not met with your approval. Therefore, I will cease doing XYZ."

This could be anything. Cooking, cleaning, picking them up from school, taking them to soccer practice, etc.

Doing this, you are standing the status quo on its head. If they want you to behave a certain way, they have to learn to reward and encourage it.

So, instead of threatening to take something back, you just announce you will stop making purchases altogether.

And stick to it. Stick. To. It. Children can smell the wishy-washy like dogshit.

My guess is that the threat of taking something back failed because, in the past, she learned that you were likely to give in if all she had to do was stick to her guns for 1 minute longer than you would. That's nothing to be ashamed of, we all do it sometimes. But that's why with children, you have to be ready to draw the "this far, no further" line in an appropriate spot and make it stick no matter what happens.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:26 PM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


1. Lead by example.
2. Make her earn everything. EVERYTHING is a privilege that she has to earn - from tv watching to getting together with her friends. If she wants to go to Suzie's house on Thursday, she first has to get her chores done (and done correctly and on time). She learns a work ethic and she learns to be grateful for the time that she gets to spend at Suzie's house. It will make her appreciate these little things - especially when she worked so hard to get them.
posted by Sassyfras at 4:26 PM on September 2, 2008


Actually, tromping through the city with her and feeding the homeless isn't a bad idea. Children are going to imagine things within their own experience; if you talk about people being hungry she's going to imagine people being the hungriest she's ever been, which is not that hungry.
But if you sign the two of you up for some sort of volunteer program that allows her to really see poverty, it will make much more of an impact.

Reading is another way to gain awareness of how good she has it, because it lets her experience someone else's world--if she doesn't read much on her own, you can institute a nightly reading of books with children in working class or poverty situations (your librarian can help you find these). Don't point out to her why these are the books you're choosing, just let the ideas sink in.

And finally, make her work for stuff more. Establish a chores-for-points chart and tell her that if she wants a new bike, she has to earn 300 points through chores. It's much easier to appreciate things if they are hard to get.
posted by smoakes at 4:27 PM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Guilt is like a wedge. There has to be a crack in order to insert the tip. Find something or someone your daughter cares about, and show her -- don't berate her, just show her -- what her life could be like otherwise.

When I was eight or nine, I helped my mother with a charity sale, and afterwards I was annoyed with the way some of the kids behaved in line. "I don't even think they were that poor, anyway," I grumbled. "Their clothes looked just like ours, only older."

"They are, quote, 'ours, only older,'" she said.

As you can see, I never forgot it. I do think it would be a good idea to have her help with a charity job, but only if she takes to the work in particularly. The poor aren't object lessons, and if she does it half-assedly with bad grace, the lesson will slide off her anyway.

I honestly remember waking up as a child, around age five, and realizing that I was not the most important person in the world. The idea of being grateful, taking turns, not going first -- it all hit me, and I thought something like, that's it! That's how grownups act! I get it! Maybe she, too, will wake up one morning. But I bet it takes a lot of subtle groundwork to get that. Have you tried showing her that you're hurt? Not angry -- but really hurt?

Best of luck to you -- I'm sure she's a good kid.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:27 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lack of gratitude usually means she is used to getting what she wants and sees it as status quo. It may also mean she has trouble seeing from other folks' points of view.

Are other people in her life other than her sister modeling gratitude-or does she hang out with friends who are whiny and greedy and think they DESERVE all that they get? Don't discount the peer group at this age.
posted by konolia at 4:34 PM on September 2, 2008


We volunteered when I was a kid. I got dragged around to a lot of service-oriented stuff my Mom did like helping out at the Red Cross bloodmobile or whatever else and my Mom basically explained that we were in the role of helping because we were able-bodied and doing well enough to have both the energy and the time to help other people who might not. I hadn't really looked at service orientation like that in the past. I don't think this was about gratitude exactly -- my Mom still thinks I'm rude and entitled in a lot of ways -- but it helped give me perspective on what my role was in the larger community and about what I may have had that I wasn't quantifying as important.

We also went on field trips to places outside of normal school field trips and I remembrr once going to the Perkins school for the Blind and meeting blind kids and being really freaked out because I had never really met a disabled kid before (I grew up in the country in a pretty small town) and how my Mom treated them and everyone with the same sort of respect she gave me and my sister and our friends. I feel that setting a good example as your daughter is trying to figure herself out is going to be an important part of how she learns the value of things.

Gratitude is sort of about relating to other people and can backfire as seeming to be you telling her she doesn't appreciate you (let me tell you about my mom for example...) so I'd suggest showing other ways of showing appreciation to other people, whether it's in church, with family (thank you cards, even if they're rote can be a good way to set expectations well) or just appreciating nature and the world around us. She may never get everything she wants, btu she may be able to learn to appreciate what she does have. I know it sounds sort of contracdictory, but I think it's possible.
posted by jessamyn at 4:35 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Take things away from her. Later, give them back.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:35 PM on September 2, 2008


How do I teach GRATITUDE to my 9-year-old daughter?

By being grateful. Don't try to teach it to her, but be an example. Do you give thanks before meals, and mean it? (We're not religious but we take a moment to express our appreciation for our food before meals.) Do you thank your partner for everyday things, and talk at dinner about positive people/experiences you had or read about that day? "Be the change..." and all that.

I'm close to tromping through the city with her and feeding the homeless just to see if it would give her a sense of gratitude.

That would be a great way to get her to resent you and the homeless people you'd be exploiting for your personal reasons. Again, be an example rather than trying to "teach" her. Do you feed the homeless? If you donate money to charities, maybe you could change your approach and give time instead. Habitat for Humanity, or the Ronald McDonald House, or transporting rescue animals, or any number of things that coincide with your family's values/interests. When you buy her school supplies, do you buy extras for the needy-kid bin at the front of the store? Does she buy xmas and bday gifts for her sister? (My kids used to shop for each other at the Scholastic book fair at school every fall --- keeping their gifts secret from each other was a big deal.)

Separate from gratitude is the question of whether your daughter understands the value of a dollar. Your examples seem to be about purchases, so I wonder if she has an allowance or a bank account or even gift cards that she can use to make her own purchases after considering the cost. My kids were 7 and 9 when I opened savings accounts for them and started a $5-per-week allowance --- $2 had to go into savings and $3 was for them to spend/save as they chose. It has proven to be a good financial foundation for them.

And yikes at the idea that your younger child is more lovable because she's more grateful.
posted by headnsouth at 4:42 PM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


We have an orphanage near our house and every year the local school takes up a collection. We make it a point to drop off some gifts for the kids in addition to whatever we give through the school. We do this as a family and we talk about how some kids don't have a family member to look after them and some of the things the kids miss out on.

We'll also donate school supplies to the local school and talk about how some kids aren't lucky enough to have simple things like pencils and glue.

Typically, things that involve other kids that don't have things the greatest.

We never do this in a scary or threating way, but always in the context of how lucky we are compared to a lot of people, we should be thankful for what we have and help others when we can.
posted by monkeydluffy at 5:18 PM on September 2, 2008


I don't know if this helps, because it's very similar to your back-to-school shopping experience, but when I was eleven I joined Boy Scouts, and at that time, you needed a complete uniform to be a Scout. So as part of our back-to-school shopping trip, my dad dutifully bought me a Boy Scout uniform - pants, belt, shirt, hat, and probably a few other things, as they used to carry this stuff at Sears or JCPennys. It may have been $50 or more of Boy scout-specific clothes, circa 1974. And I didn't thank him for those items, or probably any of the other clothes he bought for me, because I hated shopping for clothes with my dad, even though I loved him tremendously (and still do!) But the man sold mens' clothing for a living, and his fashion sense didn't align with mine, so his idea of a "good looking outfit" often involved things like double-knit polyester pants and polyester shirts, whereas I was much happier with a pair of "dungarees" and a rugby shirt.

Anyway, it was probably a quiet ride home, but my dad was often a quiet -- though intense -- person. When I got home, he said a few words to my mom, and she came into my room, closed the door, and read me the riot act about the value of money and time, and the importance of thanking people for the things they do for you. And her giving the lecture was a reversal for me, as typically my mom was the Good Cop and my dad played The Heavy. But the lecture worked, and I Got It. Big Time.

I'm now 45, and that lesson still resonates with me, and it's something I try to teach our children. i don't know if this is helpful, but I can say with all honesty that this is what worked for me.
posted by mosk at 5:38 PM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Something I do in my classroom, which I picked up from my mentor teacher, is to have the kids write in a gratitude journal. Have a notebook that is especially for this, and each week, have your daughter write about five things she is grateful for, and why. Talk to her about each item briefly, so it's not just an exercise.
posted by lemonwheel at 5:46 PM on September 2, 2008


Leave her alone. Jeeeez. You don't want her grateful. It's nice that she believes in the life you provide for her. She trusts you.

All this weird advice about taking things away from her will only make her think less of you and make her wonder why you are being so mean.

She'll discover gratitude in her own time and in her own way. Relax. I'm tempted to point out that what you are trying to do is pretty controlling and sounding almost like the thought police, but I'm not sure you'd be very grateful for that kind of comment.
posted by cccorlew at 5:49 PM on September 2, 2008 [8 favorites]


for what it's worth, i had to earn everything and do all my chores and really, it didn't make me any kinder or more giving. however, i did know how to take care of myself when i got to college, so there's definitely some life-skills value there.

how about making her trade things? if she wants a new toy, she has to donate an old one to charity. ditto with any clothes she has not outgrown. be sure to recycle, reuse, and do other earth-friendly things. make sure she learns manners and etiquette, and model those behaviors for her. the most you can do is teach her to be considerate, not kind. but she can at least learn habits of moderation and politeness.

also, for what it's worth, you might try a pet. taking care of an animal (or volunteering at an animal shelter) may reach her in ways that people don't. if she's so attached to objects, she may be insecure and feel those things--those "right" clothes and "right" toys--may be her only ticket to acceptance. an animal will give her the kind of unjudgemental feedback that her bratty little peers may not.

praise your younger daughter for her thoughtfulness, but don't punish your older daughter for not displaying it. as much as you may not like it, this may just be the way she is, and you may have to accept that she has other qualities besides sweetness.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:56 PM on September 2, 2008



And yikes at the idea that your younger child is more lovable because she's more grateful.


To the poster's defense: more lovable is not more loved. Being humble, gracious, and grateful are qualities that many folks admire, and being boastful, rude and ungrateful are qualities that many folks find abhorrent. You can love your child to the ends of the earth, but find their behavior abhorrent.
posted by davejay at 5:58 PM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't think you can punish or guilt-trip somebody into being grateful - all the variations on "taking stuff away" will only produce resentment, not gratitude. If you just want her to act grateful, not actually be grateful, then maybe the punishment stuff will work in the short term.

It sounds hokey, but you know how at Thanksgiving dinner some families go around the table and each say something they're thankful for? What about doing that every day as part of dinner conversation (in addition to or in lieu of saying grace perhaps?)
posted by Daily Alice at 6:31 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't have a specific technique, tip, or gratitude 'hack' for you, but I'll say this:

There could be all sorts of family dynamics stuff going on in the background of this behaviour.

Suppose she has picked up on the pattern of you being frustrated with her, but not so frustrated with her sister. Or that (example only, not an accusation) you preemptively get frustrated with her, but not her sister. Her conclusion: my sister is more loved than I. Then her fits of being an ingrate aren't really about a lack of gratitude, but rather about acting out against you or seeking attention.

Have you sat down and asked her why she's acting that way? I don't think nine is too young for that sort of semi-guided introspection. Get her talking to you about it, and listen. Don't bargain, don't flat out tell her that her feelings are wrong ("You love her more than me" "No, I don't" = wrong; "You love her more than me" "I'm sorry I made you think that, because I actually love you a lot" = better).
posted by CKmtl at 7:00 PM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


She'll discover gratitude in her own time and in her own way. Relax.

Agreed, you're worrying too much about it.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:04 PM on September 2, 2008


"Clearly, my efforts in doing XYZ have not met with your approval. Therefore, I will cease doing XYZ."

This could be anything. Cooking, cleaning, picking them up from school, taking them to soccer practice, etc.


Yikes! No, don't do this. It's passive aggressive game playing. He's suggesting you play a game of will with a pre-teen. It won't end well.

As someone else said, lead by example. Don't expect gratitude. Assign chores. Don't couple the chores to any corresponding reward, because the kid will defy you and choose not to do the chore and forgo the reward.

"Mom, dad, can I go with Suzie to the movies this weekend?"

"If your chores are done."

And then stick to it.
posted by gjc at 7:24 PM on September 2, 2008


When I was a kid, one Sunday a month my parents dragged my brothers and I to a horrible state-run "hospital" for mentally disabled people (and, even more tragically, one mentally abled girl with hydrocephalia who was probably ditched there by parents who couldn't deal) to walk/wheel them to church services.

That experience made us all real grateful pretty quickly, because we couldn't bear to be in their wards for longer than the couple of minutes it took to get everybody out the door to the chapel. Powerful medicine.
posted by Camofrog at 7:54 PM on September 2, 2008


Not a great answer to your question, but perhaps relevant: My wife does a thing that just kills me, it's so natural and obvious yet I'd never have thought of it. Whenever one of our kids picks up a toy they've been given, she asks them (in a relaxed way) if they remember who gave it to them. By virtue of this (our girls are 4 and 6) the kids know where every toy they've got comes from. And when relatives come to visit, it's a natural consequence that they'll pick up those toys and bring to them to Auntie or whoever and thank them for them, even if the birthday or whatever was months or years ago.

More, I guess, to do with manners than gratitude. But still.
posted by carterk at 7:54 PM on September 2, 2008 [9 favorites]


He's suggesting you play a game of will with a pre-teen.

We're talking about a nine-year-old.

Moreover, it's not passive-aggressive at all. If anything, I'm suggesting "aggressive-aggressive," where you refuse to reward or even acknowledge bad behavior. "You don't like X? Then you don't get X."

Example:

"I bought you a sweater."
"This color sucks."
"Fine, I won't buy you clothes any more."
"Wait, what?"
"You don't like my choice in clothes, and you chose to express you distaste in a rude manner. Therefore, I won't buy you clothes. If you choose not to be rude, we can talk about getting a different color."
"Well, I guess we could work together to get a color I like..."

This is like teaching table manners. If you can't eat properly, you can't eat at the table with the big kids. Period. There's no passive-aggressive game-playing here.

the kid will defy you and choose not to do the chore and forgo the reward.

No kid -- no person -- in human history has ever chosen to forgo a reward forever.

The kid may choose a different reward. Or a deferred reward. Or even choose negative attention as a reward. Which I why consistency is important. If a kid complains three times and then you give in, then all you've done is taught the kid that three complaints is the price they have to pay to get what they want.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:17 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am not grateful for my stuff. I am grateful for my family and my friends and for the situation of relative privilege (white, middle class, USA) I was born into.

I actually feel like being grateful for CLOTHES or treats is not the point — the point is being grateful for the family around you, for the people who spend their time and money on you.

Taking her stuff back to the store isn't going to make her resent her clothes—it is going to make her resent you. And I think you don't want her to be grateful for her clothes, you want her to be grateful to you. If you want to punish her for being ungrateful, fine, take the clothes back (or whatever other consequence there is). But if you don't want to punish her, but make her learn gratitude, there has to be another solution, and it might be letting her learn her own lessons.
posted by chelseagirl at 8:48 PM on September 2, 2008


"I bought you a sweater."
"This color sucks."
"Fine, I won't buy you clothes any more."
"Wait, what?"
"You don't like my choice in clothes, and you chose to express you distaste in a rude manner. Therefore, I won't buy you clothes. If you choose not to be rude, we can talk about getting a different color."
"Well, I guess we could work together to get a color I like..."


....Who else doubts that the conversation ACTUALLY would work that way?

Mind you, I'm not saying that VeniceGlass's daughter SPECIFICALLY would be like this, more that I simply don't think ANY nine-year-old would be that logical. I think it would be more like:

"I bought you a sweater."
"This color sucks."
"Fine, I won't buy you clothes any more."
"Wait, what?"
"You don't like my choice in clothes, and you chose to express you distaste in a rude manner. Therefore, I won't buy you clothes. If you choose not to be rude, we can talk about getting a different color."
"OMIGOD! You're NOT going to buy me CLOTHES? Omigod you're SO MEAN! I HATE YOU! You are like the WORST parents EVER!..."

Nine year olds are more about passion than logic, to my recollection. I think saying that you're not going to buy her clothes any more would touch off more passion than anything else.

Sorry I don't have much advice for the original question; I'm kind of torn between all the answers, actually.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 PM on September 2, 2008


I'm suggesting "aggressive-aggressive," where you refuse to reward or even acknowledge bad behavior. "You don't like X? Then you don't get X." Example:
"I bought you a sweater."
"This color sucks."
"Fine, I won't buy you clothes any more."


That's a bad example- you're not really going to stop buying your child clothes. Don't huff and puff and threaten to do things you're not going to do, it just makes you sound silly (and I know, because my parents did and they did). I agree with those who say to expect obedience, not gratitude, for now. She'll come around, sooner or later. I'm 25, and I think I'm just now getting to the really grateful stage. In a few years, she'll start working (babysitting, or working at the mall), and they'll be lots of rude people taking her for granted, and a little light bulb will click on, ah ha! This is why I should be polite and thankful! I don't want to be like these people!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:02 PM on September 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't huff and puff and threaten to do things you're not going to do

Of course not. But do children need new clothes purchased every week, every month? You need to always be able to upstage your kid and re-orient their thinking.

Don't make me turn this car around! Try it some time. Go ahead and turn the car around. It'll be a memorable experience and lesson in natural consequences.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:19 PM on September 2, 2008


I had a mixture....the original owners of the stable where I had riding lessons had a program for special needs children and young adults when I was about nine. One day an autistic 5 year old boy told me that I could hold his hand if I wanted. This meant much more to me than my mother's buying the Ronald McDonald House calendar, shoving at me, then announcing that I was forfeiting my allowance.
posted by brujita at 9:27 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gratitude takes practice...even adults (myself included) work on it. Maybe instill a family practice where everyday you each share something you are grateful for. You can call it something catchy like "everyday blessings" or "daily appreciations." You could do this at dinner, or if both of your children are able to write, you could each write it on a chalk board/white board at the start of the day. Keep it fun and although it might feel forced at first, it will probably catch on. You could also vary it a bit with sharing other things like "something kind I did today" or "I would like to offer a blessing (or kindness, or health, or wellness, etc) to so-and-so." This might help to keep things from getting stale and to get her to think outside herself (compassion).
posted by hazel at 10:16 PM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I would lay off. You can force her to have manners, but you can't force her to be grateful, like you can't force her to believe in god or force her to love someone. You can force her to pretend she is grateful and to go through the motions to put on a convincing performance, but you can't make her actually be grateful. Especially, in the way you are attempting to force it upon her. I have to admit if I was being dragged to the homeless shelter because my mother thought I was a little ingrate, I wouldn't feel particularly grateful in that situation.

I personally think that feeling grateful in many ways arises out of a sense of contentment. When I'm sad and unhappy I don't feel particularly grateful for anything, even though I know I should and I still go through the motions as if I really am grateful. Maybe your daughter isn't very happy and that's why she isn't very grateful. And since she's only 9, she hasn't learned yet how to suck it up and pretend to be grateful even if she doesn't really feel it deep inside.
posted by whoaali at 10:23 PM on September 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


One thing I remember about being a kid was feeling like adults controlled almost every aspect of my life. The one solace I had was that I could think and feel whatever I wanted, even if I was outwardly an obedient kid.

I always deeply resented it when adults would try to tell me that my feelings or thoughts were wrong and needed to change. If my parents had started actively campaigning to make me feel grateful, I would have held on tightly to my any ungrateful thoughts and feelings. I might have even deliberately cultivating ungrateful thoughts, just to prove that there was one place where I couldn't be controlled.

If your daughter feels the same way, I'd say that pushing her to feel more grateful would be counterproductive.
posted by creepygirl at 12:48 AM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why not keep a diary on the fridge, or somewhere, and every day list one thing you are grateful for. Perhaps encourage your other daughter to do the same? Leading by example will get you far further in this than punishing her. If you do that, she's just going to become less grateful to spite you.

Perhaps take her volunteering, too, as someone else suggested. Showing her that "life could be this way" might make her appreciate the one she has a bit more.

Try showing her the benefits of gratitude. Right now, perhaps she doesn't understand that being grateful makes you feel good. Perhaps she doesn't understand the payoff.

The other thing I'd suggest is letting her grow out of it. If she wants to be grateful, then you can support her with that. But if she doesn't, then no amount of forching will help, and will probably worsen your relationship.
posted by Solomon at 1:27 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're giving her the impression that you think of her as The Bad Daughter. It's not surprising she doesn't have the sense of security necessary to start worrying about how other people feel.
posted by tomcooke at 5:18 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are you looking to teach her gratitude, or empathy? What your younger daughter is doing sounds like empathy - it comes from a place of feeling and caring about what other people feel.

I reacted to your question, even before the [more inside] - the caps, and then later the bold, and the "that head of hers". You probably wrote this question in frustration and anger, and parenting is often enormously frustrating, so I don't mean to seem harsh to you for it. It's just that if this is the tone you take with your older daughter, I can imagine her not being terribly receptive.

with the specific knowledge that they are lucky to have the things that they do. They never want for anything (though we hardly give them everything).

You mean, according to your priorities, you feel they shouldn't want for anything. Your older daughter feels otherwise.

We're lucky enough to be able to manage to send them to private school. They get the clothes and toys they need, and some that they want.

Lucky to you, and to your own priorities. Why do you imagine they, as kids, should be grateful for you sending them to private school? I mean sure, when they're older, if they've had a happy school life and a good education, they'd be grateful - but as children, why should they be now?

They get the clothes and toys they need? Wouldn't most parents think that? I'm an adult now (and I'd like to think, an adult with a sense of gratitude and awareness of how many people are so much less fortunate) - and I still feel a great sense of loss and deprivation from my childhood. My parents would tell you I absolutely had everything I needed. I would disagree.

This is not to say they don't have enough. This is just to say, they don't necessarily have the same needs as you, or as you think they should.

My younger daughter is always thinking of others. "How are you feeling, Mom?" "I should make a card for Grandma." It's a great trait and makes her that much more lovable.

It is a wonderful thing, caring about others. But that comes from empathy - not from guilt and gratitude.

I'm close to tromping through the city with her and feeding the homeless just to see if it would give her a sense of gratitude.

I would agree that this would be a good thing to do (minus the tromping maybe) - but are you doing it to broaden her horizons? To show her the needs of other people, and how we can feel for and understand and maybe help them? Or are you doing it to get her to shut up? Because gratitude is a wonderful thing, but in my experience, every time someone tells someone else to be grateful, it's always to get them to shut up and be satisfied with your lot in life.

Today, the latest, hardly atypical episode... complaining about not getting everything she wanted even during shopping for her back-to-school stuff ... not just threatening, but actually taking back the stuff we bought (as we've done before, on occasion) does not seem to help.

What did she need? Why did she feel she needed it? Was it because someone else had it, and she didn't? Did she feel if she didn't have it, she would stand out among the crowd, and other kids would think less of her?

There has to be a way to get it through that head of hers.

Or maybe that heart of hers.

Gratitude is great, but it's all relative. There are always many, many people who have it much, much harder than we do - going by that, none of us (except one person, the poor man/woman) would have the right to utter a word of complaint. The Four Yorkshiremen would probably all consider each other terribly ungrateful.

The truly grateful aren't grateful and at peace because they know there are plenty of people suffering more than them - they are grateful and at peace because their emotional needs are met.

Are you comparing your own childhood to hers, and feeling angry that even though she has so much more than you did, it's not enough?

What I'm trying to say is that even though you extol the empathy and caring of your younger daughter - I don't see in your question anywhere mentioning why your older daughter felt she needed more, or where you asked, or cared. Why is she wanting more? Like I said, maybe she wants more to fit in. In which case you can talk to her gently and help her build a firmer sense of self, and understand that she doesn't have to chase that kind of social approval to be loved. Maybe she wants more because yes, she's unaware of the wider world - in which case, show her more of the wider world, to help her learn and grow - but not to get her to shut up. Or maybe she wants more because she doesn't feel loved, or she has some other emotional need that's unsatisfied, and she's trying to fulfil it this way. I don't believe that your older daughter is just born ungrateful while your younger one is just born grateful and caring - do you?
posted by Ira_ at 5:39 AM on September 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Have you tried taking her out by herself-maybe for ice cream or something-and simply talking to her? In a nonjudgemental, educational way explaining why gratitude is important? At this age I would stress the direct benefits to her of being a person who expresses gratitude.

And, I do hate the Oprahfication of American with the heat of ten thousand suns, but her idea of a gratitude journal actually is a good one. Why not buy this kid a really fancy journal -and buy yourself one at the same time-and have a special time once a week where you sit with her and talk about the things you are each grateful for that you wrote down?

Maybe treat this as a rite of passage to growing up....(and don't do this for the younger daughter yet-tell her that when SHE is nine she gets one too. I am sure as a mom you can figure out why to do it that way.)
posted by konolia at 5:43 AM on September 3, 2008


"Make her earn everything." combined with "Establish a chores-for-points chart" is why I was so incredibly resentful of every damn bit of house/yardwork I ever had to do as a child/teen. Yay behavioral therapy! </sarcasm>

That's why I got my first job at 15: minimum wage at the library was several multiples above what I could make doing my chores, plus no kitty litter or obnoxious siblings. I guess that gave me a good work ethic or something, but at the time it meant I thumbed my nose at my chores because I could just go to work and earn my own money for jeans & ear piercing.

Bitter much? Why yes.

And honestly? those experiences are part of why at 34 I still struggle with doing those things (cleaning, yardwork) on my own just because they ought to be done. Feeling something intrinsically is different from acting as if you do because of some reward or punishment.

Also, I notice that you've already done what several folks suggest, namely: if she's not grateful about [x], take [x] back. So apparently that doesn't work.

I like what chelseagirl, Ira_ & konolia have to say.
posted by epersonae at 11:37 AM on September 3, 2008


Send her to public school?

Maybe I have a low opinion of kids who go to private school, but most of the ones I've met in my life time have been jerk-asses. And even if your daughter isn't a jerk-ass, hanging out with a bunch of jerk-asses isn't going to do her any favours.
posted by chunking express at 11:37 AM on September 3, 2008


And I agree with epersonae: attaching rewards to shit you're supposed to do -- chores, etc -- is a horrible idea. (I also think it's a horrible idea when parents buy their kids bikes and shit like that when they get good grades.) You want to teach your daughter to do things because they are intrinsically good, not because if she does them she'll get a prize.
posted by chunking express at 11:40 AM on September 3, 2008


What do you imagine this gratitude looking like? Asking how you are feeling isn´t gratitude...

Maybe you want her to one day spontaneously say ¨Mom, I´m so grateful that you (buy me clothes/feed me/send me to private school/are my mom that takes care of me and I love you)¨.

How do you express your own gratitude? Do you say that you are grateful for your good health, grateful that grandma is still alive, grateful to have two daughters that you love? Do you ever tell your 9 year old that you are grateful to her for something she has done, whether it´s washing the dishes or just being your daughter?

Maybe you should start.
posted by yohko at 5:06 PM on September 3, 2008


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