When my son wanted a banjo that he'd spotted in a music store, I had visions of him as a rockin' banjo star. The banjo was just his size, and I couldn't help but imagine his smiling face on Christmas morning when he awoke to find it waiting for him. But all thoughts of giving it to him fled with his demand: "It costs $250, and I really need it!"
I realized in that moment how quickly a simple request can turn into a false sense of entitlement. There are so many wonderful things our kids desire — and we want to give — but the answer can't be yes every time. Instead of permitting an attitude of "I need it, I deserve it," I help my kids develop an attitude of "I'm so thankful."
One effective way to encourage my tweens to count their blessings is to let them experience a day without some of the luxuries they're accustomed to. In North America, we use up to a gallon of water just to brush our teeth. And a 5-minute shower uses about 10 gallons. But in developing countries, the average person uses 5 gallons or less per day. As a reminder to be thankful for our clean, available water, my family occasionally takes a "water walk." Each person gets a jug or bucket. We walk to our outdoor faucet and fill up, then carry the buckets back to the house and only use the water we can haul to the house that day. If someone needs additional water, he must return to the outdoor faucet. Paying attention to how we use this precious resource has made my kids more grateful for it.
Rice and beans
My kids love food. All kinds of food. My husband and I taught our children to eat their fruits and veggies, but we also want to teach them that food costs a lot, and not everyone has the luxury of variety and choice. So periodically we serve only rice and beans for dinner. After that, my kids have a renewed appreciation for the juicy oranges and tasty strawberries they are blessed to have.
Count it out
My daughter isn't really into stuff, but she can't get enough of experiences and adventures with her friends. So when she gets upset if the concert tickets aren't bought, or the beach vacation isn't taken, or the race isn't entered — it's time to count. I ask her to stop talking about the event she wants to participate in and count out three things she's done recently that she's thankful for. It's amazing how the reminder of the fun experiences she's already had encourages gratitude and patience as she waits on the next great thing.
Wait and work
Most tweens want instant gratification. And it's easy as parents to get caught up in the fun and excitement of blessing our kids. But I've found there's nothing like hard work to help my family see and appreciate the value of something. Last summer, my kids spent hours helping my husband and me with landscaping tasks (and later nursing a few blisters) to earn money for the LEGO sets they wanted.
And while it's going to take a lot more window washing and garage sweeping before my son earns a banjo, when he does, the smile on his face is going to be a sweet sight to see.