Friday, 11 September 2015

Teach children to be grateful

A few weeks ago, I got very upset with my firstborn because she failed to tell us that she had lost the watch her father had just bought for her. I was cleaning her room and realised her watch was not in the box, so when I queried her, she told me that it went missing several weeks ago during gym class. I asked her why she didn’t tell me the day she knew it was nowhere to be found – she replied, “I was hoping to find it the next day mama, but I didn’t and after that, I forgot.”

Forgot or scared to tell us?

Although my husband is often seen as the fiercer and stricter one, when it comes to disciplining the children, I come down harder on the girls, especially with Isobel, as she is the older sister.

I was about to scream and start nagging (a typical response of mine when the kids start to misbehave), but I held my tongue and decided a different approach was required. Was she afraid to tell me because she was scared I was going to scold her or was she genuinely oblivious and she (conveniently) forgot?

This was not the first time she had lost things in school – from her glasses and water bottles to books and stationery.

So, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I think she was so used to us replacing her lost items that she had gotten used to it without knowing or caring where her new stuff came from!

I decided a lesson in gratitude was needed. I read somewhere that when kids start to recognise that the things they own and the opportunities they have come from someone other than themselves, it will help them develop a more healthy understanding of how interdependent we all are and then, perhaps they may be more inclined to treat others, and their own belongings, with more respect and gratitude.

Being grateful is essentially being aware of who or what makes positive contributions and aspects of our lives possible and acknowledging that.

When all of us learn to think in those terms, we will be less quick to make mindless and self-centred demands. Ultimately, we begin to appreciate what we have rather than focusing on what we wish we had.

I made the girls watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with me and after the movie, I made them tell me whom their most and least favourite characters were. They both agreed that Charlie was the nicest and Veruca Salt and Mike Teavee were the least kindest.

The next weekend, we spring-cleaned their toys, books and clothes and I told them we were donating them as well as some unopened birthday presents from last year to a children’s home.

They were not too happy, but upon distributing it to the children, I could see a change of attitude and Isobel was feeling gutted she held on to some of her old toys prior to the visit.

Over the next few days, I could see her organising her chest of toys and books with more care.

I’ve also recently implemented a “minute of gratitude” practice before bedtime, sharing something they’re thankful for – be it good weather so they could play bubbles at the park or having warm roti canai for breakfast. I’m hoping this daily tradition will not just be a special bonding session between us but also help develop a positive frame of mind. Isobel has started a gratitude folder in her diary (OK, so I peek from time to time – but let’s save that for another article) and I feel so relieved to know that there seems to be a shift of gratefulness in her writings.

I hope.

Right now, I am resisting the urge to buy her a new watch and although I’m a huge fan of books and encourage the reading habit, I’ve asked her to just borrow books from the library once she is done reading her book.

My parents were not able to buy us a lot of things growing up, so the temptation to shower the girls with things is hard to defy. But I suppose the old saying “all things in moderation” is a useful tip here. When I kept buying whatever they wanted (or what I secretly wanted for myself growing up), it sort of weakens the gratitude impulse and they won’t be able to value and appreciate the toy or game, as they keep setting their sights on what’s newer and trendier.

At the end of the day, as parents, we too need to set a good example. When our kids see us expressing sincere thanks all the time, they’ll hopefully be more inclined to do so as well.

Finally, encourage the kids to find the silver lining or the brighter side to things that don’t go their way.

As parents, we need to remember that it is more fruitful to teach our kids to be resilient and to refocus their displeasure on the positives they may have overlooked.

I hope this approach works.

Emcee and TV host Daphne Iking is a mother of two young girls. Her parenting journey is a two-way learning experience. Her latest approach to her daughter’s carelessness has made her less impatient and more understanding. A blessing in disguise indeed. Email her at:

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