Fostering a heart of gratitude

*2006 post*

Something Mark and I talk a lot about is how to foster a heart of gratitude and contentment in our children. The fact is that as Americans, we are rich. We are presented almost daily with opportunities to buy our children STUFF. There are toys, clothes, books, food, CDs and DVDs. Add to that the opportunities to go to the movies, the zoo, amusement parks, vacations, and other places.

How can we as parents raise children who are grateful for what they have, who are content, who are not materialistic-minded, who are not greedy, who are generous and would prefer giving rather than receiving? To take that a step further, what can we do as parents to teach our children to be content with little? Also, what can we do to limit the stuff our children get?

My husband can count on one hand the toys he played with as a child. I asked him today, and he gave me the list: “those green army guys, Legos, Lincoln logs and Matchbox cars.” That’s it. Four bins of toys. Can you imagine?!?! Now, let me just say that my husband was not deprived by any stretch of the imagination. He would be the first to tell you that. (He has four brothers, after all. Who needs toys when you have each other? They played football, war, or built dams and re-routed the creek on their property. They did chores. They read. They studied. They poured their pennies out onto the floor and lined them up by year). Those boys played for hours without any toys whatsoever. And my husband is the most content man I know. He truly doesn’t want anything. Oh, how I want that characteristic in our children!

I’m currently reading Hints On Child Training by H. Clay Trumbull. (the great-grandfather of Elisabeth Elliot.) This book was originally published in 1890. He writes,

Children of the present day- especially children of parents in comfortable worldly circumstances- are far more likely than were their fathers and mothers to lack lessons of self-denial. The standard of living is very different now from a generation since. There were few parents in any community in this country fifty years ago who could buy whatever they wanted for their children; or, indeed, for themselves. There was no freeness of purchases for children, for the table, for the house or the household, as is now common on every side. Children then did not expect a new suit of clothes every few months. Often they had old ones made over for them, from those of their parents or of their elder brothers and sisters. A present from the toy-shop or bookstore was a rarity in those days. There was not much choosing by children what they would eat as they sat down at the family table…. Self-denial, or more or less of personal privation, came as a necessity to almost every child in the younger days of many who are now on the stage of active life. But how different now!

The average child of the present generation receives much more presents and more indulgences from his parents in any one year of his life than the average child of a generation ago received in all the years of his childhood. Because of this new standard, the child of today expects new things, as a matter of course; he asks for them, in the belief that he will receive them. In consequence of their abundance, he sets a smaller value upon them severally. It is not possible that he should think as highly of any one new thing, out of a hundred coming to him in rapid succession, as he woul dof the only gift of an entire year.

Trumbull goes on to emphasize that a child should not get what he wants merely because he wants it. Not just for the sake of denying the child, but in order to bring gain to the child as he learns that he must do without what he wants.

I don't know about you, but I see this as a much 'richer' way to live: with less. And for this reason, we try to say no around here. Not all the time, but do we say no more than yes? Oh, I hope so. Now, our children are young and rarely ask for things, so us “saying no” can be defined as me, Stacy, standing in front of some cool thing I know my child would love (Bob the Builder pajamas for my 2-year-old son was a recent one) and debating. Would he love them? Yes. Would I love to see the look on his face when he sees them? Absolutely. But, I choose no. And then again, the next time I see them, no.

I also think that a child being denied something they want gives them a much greater appreciation if they do at some point get the object of their little heart’s desire. Our 4-year-old had been pining for Dora underwear for at least six months, asking for them numerous times in many stores. (We’re not really sure why the Dora fascination; she knows nothing about Dora, but she saw her picture once in a Christmas flyer and has liked Dora ever since!) Each time she asked, we’d ask her if she needed new underwear. She’d say “No,” and put them back on the rack without complaint. She asked again a week ago, and this time we finally got some for her. She was so delighted and grateful. She cherishes them; she places a higher value on them.

And then there's just the accumulation of stuff other people give to our children. It is generally around the Fall and Winter months that this conversation again presents itself in our home. Within that season, two out of our three childrens’ birthdays occur, and of course: Christmas. Mark and I each have large families, and we still all get together (aunts and uncles and cousins) for birthday celebrations. So our children walk away from their birthdays with many new things. And then Christmas falls a month or so later. This is a lot of stuff accumulated in a short time.

We try to limit the toys our children have. I don’t have a regular system for this, other than that we try to load up a bunch of toys occasionally (when the kids are asleep) and take them to the consignment store or to Goodwill. They’ve never missed anything that has disappeared.

The other thing we do is buy books, instead of toys. We have a birthday tradition with our children: On their birthday, we all go to the bookstore and they get to choose a book. (After a couple of years of coming home with lame character- paperback books, we’ve smartened up: Now we enter the store with a list of books we’ve (Daddy and I) agreed upon ahead of time, we pull those down and they can choose from our narrowed selection).

It’s not that I don’t want our children to have toys, I just don’t want them to have a LOT of toys (or a lot of anything, for that matter.) I want them to value people over things. I want them to have thankful hearts. I want them to enjoy giving far more than getting. I want them to be content with what they have- even if what they have may be little; I don't want them to always be looking for their next perk.

So, I’d like to throw this out there for some of you wise mothers: Is this a struggle in your homes? What do some of you do to address this? Do you make it a practice to say no? What do you find yourself saying no to most often? Are there things you do to limit the stuff your children accumulate?

1 comment:

  1. Jun. 5, 2006 - I agree!
    Posted by jkk
    My husband and I have the same desire for "less" as you have expressed in this post. OUr struggle comes mostly from our parents... We have talked with them about our goal of content children, happy to just BE with people (such as THEM!) and not always looking for the next great treat, and they even nod and (pretend to?) agree, only to show up with a bag full of goodies at their next visit. We haven't figured out how to tame those random acts of giving gifts but we have managed to set boundaries for holidays. We have a lot of family on both sides and our children would be loaded with gifts - not exactly what we want them to always remember most from our Christmasses. So we talked our siblings into giving family gifts (under a set amount) - gifts that are used by the whole family together - instead of cheap toy gifts. We also set a "One Gift Only" rule for our parents with our kids. It definitely has helped (though we still feel like it's a lot).
    Thanks for your post. Maybe I'll send it to our parents? : )


    Jun. 5, 2006 - Sorry this is long......
    Posted by kevmem
    Stacy, you are a woman after my own heart on this issue!

    Let me give you some of my thoughts and dealings with STUFF. I can't tell you how much money we've spent on toys and such for our 2 girls. We've done every girl toy besides BRATZ. And what I've found is that generally they initially really like the toy, but it doesn't hold their attention very long. It is soon forgotten.

    Quality is better than lots of little pieces, too. Like the Polly Pocket thing....lots of cheap little plastic dresses that TEAR within a month. Ack!

    I would suggest not getting your kids started on the cheap plastic toy stuff! It is over priced and gets lost, broken, etc. Not a great educational toy either. No duh, right!?!

    I would stick to what they really get into. My girls most favorite toy has got to be their doll house. They play with it still, at ages 8 and almost 12!! We got the Loving Family doll house for our oldest when she was 3. She's been playing with dollhouse stuff for NINE YEARS! Next would be their American Girl Dolls, with some special dresses they got as gifts from grandparents, but nothing else like cabinets or furniture, that stuff is expensive! Doll play is SO important for young girls, I have done much to encourage their play with dolls! For many years, the grandparents knew EXACTLY what to buy the girls....doll house stuff or AG doll dresses! And they still have all of it! When they are done playing with it, I will pack it up and save it for my grandchildren! Everything else is going to be given away or thrown out! I don't want it...who needs a slinky or Mrs. Potato Head!

    They have received crafts kits and other stuff, but it doesn't really hold their interest! I would suggest waiting til they have a genuine interest in something, then getting them the real thing in a simplified version. For example, if your daughter wants to learn to knit, get her a real pair of big knitting needles and some nice wool yarn. Teach her the difference between cheap and nice...then she will learn to look for nice things when she is older! Teach her how to do it, spend time with her. Those knitting kits look like fun, but they are usually cheaply made and not the real thing. I would suggest taking them shopping with you so they can see how expensive things are. My kids have known from around age 6 that things cost money and they can't have everything. Now, whether this teaches them to be content with little, I shall have to wait and see on that one. My kids generally don't ask for stuff at the store. We actually have a hard time deciding what gifts to buy them as it is, they aren't materialistic. I wonder if it is b/c we spend time doing stuff with them. They don't have a ton of spare time on their hands to get bored with their toys!

    Books, that is a wonderful present to give! My problem is either we already HAVE the book or that they have most likely already READ the book. And if they haven't read it, that is probably b/c it is on the reading list for next year's homeschool history! My kids WOULD rather have new books, or books they haven't read before, over new stuff anyday! Instilling a love of reading is the BEST thing you can give your children!

    Get a pet! My kids love our dog and have a lot of fun playing with the dog, dressing the dog up, etc. Taking care of and feeding the dog teaches responsibility.

    Give the gift of music. Have your children take up an instrument. Years from now, when they play for their own enjoyment and the enjoyment of others, they will thank you! I urged DD#1 to take an instrument, if she so desired. She's taken piano for 5 years and doesn't want to give it up, I give her that option at the end of the school year. DD#2 begged me to let her take violin lessons a year and a half ago. She gobbles up music and loves taking lessons.

    I think that you can teach your children contentment with little by talking to them about it and modeling it. Discuss how you don't need 20 different vases for flowers, or a whole closet full of shoes! Get rid of stuff, live simpler! This is something that I've been trying to do with my household. We recently went through the entire household and got rid of a bunch of stuff. It is so freeing to see it go! Do we truly need "you fill in the blank"! I'm not a fru-fru type person, and I detest knick-knacks, figurines, dust collectors. I dread birthdays cuz I don't want more stuff unless I have a real need for it.

    Recently I was looking at my holey replacement bedspread that's been on our bed since the dog chewed through a battery on the good comforter and got some sort of liquid all over it. I had forgotten all about it and it sat in the van that we don't drive much for the past 6 months. I had intended to get it washed at the dry cleaners since it wouldn't fit in my washing machine. We are having house guests this week and I wanted to spruce things up just a bit. I was planning on buying a whole new comforter.....and then I remembered the one I had in the van that just needed to be cleaned! I was so happy that I had one I could use. Maybe it is 10 years old, but it is still good, not even outdated! I don't HAVE to go buy something new. I learned a lesson. Learning to be happier with older things and with less....a valuable lesson!

    I think I just talked myself into going thru the house AGAIN to purge unwanted items - hurray!


    Jun. 5, 2006 - Timely topic!!
    Posted by Michelle
    Great post, girl! It seems like a never-ending pursuit...teaching (and modeling) contentment!! As I confessed to you earlier, I recently had a "be thankful, be content, etc" meltdown with my oldest (12yrs)...I have definitely found it to get more difficult as they get older and become more aware of society's materialism!! Fortunately God gives us much guidance and motivation in His word...I am reminded again today how critical it is to be teaching with the authority off Scripture in this area!! Thank you for your post...very motivating to "re-focus" in this area.


    Jun. 6, 2006 - This is such a complicated problem isn't it?
    Posted by Dana
    If it were only limited to with in the family, it would be so much easier. But mini prizes and toy/candy awards are part of so many actvities (outside of our home). I find it frustrating and overwelming.
    I will say, my no's became less frequent when my guy's started earning money for jobs they finished here on the farm - not chores. They are also limited in space - all 3 are in the same bedrrom. They have a small space to keep their stuff. My 2 oldest do a great job at saving and making purchases that will last, are needed and they must be able to store in their space. They don't like clutter - don't want to clean it and broken toy's are no fun. My 3rd son is only 6 - but has needed more direction. - and many more no's. Oh this could go on for awhile. Should I piggy back and post more on my blog?


    Jun. 6, 2006 - Untitled Comment
    Posted by Rebeca
    This is definitely something we wrestle with too- and this was a good reminder to keep wrestling while they are still small, and hopefully curb some of the "gimmes" down the road. The things I have a hard time saying no to are educational stuff- it's a lot easier to justify buying some cool learning game than a toy for me, so I really havev to watch that area!
    We grew up with very little as well, and we played together, read together and really loved each other. It truly is a discipline to say "no" when you could say yes. But it's one we all need to practice and model to our children.
    Thanks for the encouragement.


    Jun. 6, 2006 - For jkk, kevmem, Michelle, Dana, and Rebeca...
    Posted by
    jkk- Sounds like we're on the same 'page'! That is great that you have set some boundaries for holidays; the family gifts idea is a great one! What kinds of things does that entail? .... Also, I checked out your blog and liked your entries so far... keep posting! :)

    kevmem- It's nice to have input from a mama of girls! :) Everyone around me has BOYS! :) We have the Loving Family dollhouse, too! :) We bought it when E was two... and the kids all play with it. We will be hanging on to it! We don't have any American Girl dolls yet so I'm making a note for future reference! :)
    It's funny you mentioned the knitting. Just last week I bought E some real knitting needles. She kept telling me she wanted to learn. I knew she was too young (and she is), but she pretended for awhile and that was fun for her! :) You're right about modeling it in our homes (I don't buy a lot but I do tend to hang onto it!) I gotta start practicing what I'm 'preaching'! :) Thanks for all your great ideas and encouragement! ... and Happy House-purging! :)

    Michelle- Yes: (and I'm quoting you, here) "fortunately God gives us much guidance and motivation in His Word... I am reminded again today how critical it is to be teaching with the authority of Scripture in this area!" Amen to that. Love you, girl! :)

    Dana- The space limitation is a good idea. I like that. and YES: you should piggy back and post more on your blog! Or maybe you already have... I'll scoot over there and see! :)

    Rebeca- Yes. I am the same way about the educational stuff. You're right- I really want to create good habits while they're small so that those are set firmly in place by the time they're older!

    Blessings to all of you... and thanks for your comments!


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