Walking through the streets of Old San Juan Puerto Rico on a balmy December evening my 30-year old nephew handed my 6-year old daughter a ten dollar bill and said: “Merry Christmas Dahlia!” She looked at the crisp bill, at him and then with sassy body language, responded in a disappointing tone: “Ten Dollars?!?” While her comedic timing was flawless, I was mortified by her reaction so I snatched that money right out of her hand, put it in my pocket, and made her apologize.
To offer a little more context, my older brother gifted her a fifty-dollar bill earlier in the day so she was essentially comparing numbers. Nonetheless it was not one of her finest moments as she was still rude to her cousin and seemingly “ungrateful.”
Later, we privately talked about how although it is the season of giving, monetary/ material gifts are not a required, not even from family. My husband, the stock market sage, also slipped in some financial literacy and made her see that the additional $10 brought her total to $60 and her piggy bank got to eat well on Christmas Day.
It’s a constant struggle striking a balance with giving our children, and exposing them to, the best while showing them how to be grateful for every bit of it. When my 11-year son was around Dahlia’s age, I had this very conversation with my dad because I was frustrated that the message wasn’t sinking in. He listened and then simply said: “being grateful and thankful is an abstract concept for children to grasp. Break it down in their language and stick with it. They’ll get it one day.” He was right! I see how Jaxon expresses his gratitude automatically even when least expected. He now evaluates the cost of something before even asking for it. So he’s assigning value. And, his level of empathy and compassion has increased as well. So, we just have to keep at it.
Maybe, instead of hyping up giving at the end of the year or on birthdays, practice gratefulness year round because it fosters humility and can cultivate a consistent attitude of gratitude. Every night before bed, I ask my children to share one thing that made them happy. Seems like a small exercise, but focusing on joy can also shape a giving heart.
I’m always letting my children know that there are people less fortunate than we are. But, I also try to turn that macro statement into micro understanding. Last year Dahlia had a fun pajama-soccer themed birthday party but instead of gifts we asked for book donations. We then went to Tree House Books in North Philadelphia together to donate them to kids who don’t have easy access to books like she does. If you can create altruistic opportunities for children, they can model the behavior and transform the theory into something tangible and rewarding.
Listen, even the sweetest child is going to showcase sour behavior but don’t give up hope. And, don’t dismiss the missteps along the way. You’ve planted the seeds so keep nurturing those plants, pull up those nasty weeds and eventually, you will see the beautiful flowers.