Teaching Kids about Gratitude, Giving Back and Just Not Being Spoiled by Jennifer Faherty


When my kids were younger – ages 9, 7 and 5 – our entire family participated in The Walk for Hunger in New York City. It was a beautiful day and the walk was only 2 miles with sites and, ironically, plenty of snacks along the way to keep them entertained.

Before the event, my husband and I explained why we were walking – to raise awareness and money for the United Nations World Food Programme. I remember trying to keep it short so they didn’t feel like we were lecturing, yet still trying to instill in them a sense of giving back.

It worked! We walked for 45 minutes without one complaint. They even asked us questions about hunger and how the food would be distributed, showing genuine interest in what we were doing. My husband and I beamed, thinking we had just inspired the next generation’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.

Until this happened…

“Are we going home now?,” one of my kids asked.

“Not yet. Remember, we have tickets to see a show at the New Victory Theater!”

“WHAT!!! NOOO! You can’t make us!”

“It’ll be fun. It’s a play, for kids.” I responded

“You mean it’s not even a musical! I want to see a MUSICAL! No! I’m not going!”

I couldn’t believe it. Here we had just learned about millions of people across over 70 countries who don’t have enough to eat, and my kids were having tantrums because we were taking them to a play, instead of musical.

Living in a sheltered world where there’s running water, food on the table, a feast at Thanksgiving and yes, plays and sometimes even musicals, it can be challenging to teach kids to be grateful and not be spoiled. What often happens is that many kids (as well as some adults) can be incredibly giving and charitable-minded when it comes to external causes but then don’t apply those same sympathies and level of appreciation to those closest to them or their own realities.

With the holidays around the corner, here are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to instill a sense of gratitude and giving back, or just hoping your kids don’t turn out to be spoiled:

  • Talk to them regularly about causes you support. Kids should learn about what organizations you are most passionate about and see examples of how you choose to contribute.

  • Talk to them about your work/finances. It’s important for your kids to understand how your family earns money, whether that’s through investments, a spouse’s employment or other sources of income. Though the level of detail will depend on the ages of your kids, you want them to start to understand a connection between earning, saving, and spending.

  • Participate in at least one charitable activity yearly as a family. Make it a family tradition so over time, it becomes something they expect and look forward to.

  • Give them an allowance (I usually pay them after chores) and talk to them about setting aside a percentage of each dollar toward a cause that’s important to them. (This is the idea of “Save, Spend, Share” that I wrote about in a previous Ridgewood Moms newsletter). Let them pick the organization themselves (or do the research together) so they are more excited about it. Make sure you pick a goal amount and a date to send the money to the organization, so they can see the benefits of actually gifting and goal-setting.

  • Have them keep a gratitude journal (admittedly, this seems to work better for tween/teenage girls than boys, but you never know! :)

  • Say no! If you want your kids to not be spoiled, don’t spoil them. It’s okay to say no sometimes; they’re tantrums eventually end.

  • Be patient and don’t project. We’re not perfect as parents, so why expect our kids to be? Just because they sometimes have a melt-down or exhibit brattiness from time to time, let them ride it out and then use it as a teachable moment later, if appropriate. Don’t project that just because they complain about not having an iPhone 6 like their friends it means they’re doomed; it just means they’re kids.

By consistently doing the above and modeling the behavior you’d like to see, they’ll eventually be able to appreciate their own situation with all its abundance without a sense of entitlement or guilt—and still have a sense of giving back and contributing to the world around them.

~Jennifer Faherty is a Certified Life Coach, specializing in helping women find their passion and develop a healthy relationship with money. She can be found at www.jenniferfaherty.com or on Twitter @jenniferfaherty. Download her free “Money Zen” guide and get weekly tips on managing your money and creating your best life here.

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