Gratitude: The Antidote for Entitlement

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MoonriseWe’ve all experienced the entitled rant of a child that wants something NOW! “Mom, buy me this gum!” they scream. There’s no please. Really, it’s not even a question, it’s the demand of a tyrannical monarch. As parents we spend a good deal of time trying to keep our cool when our child is stuck in an entitled tantrum, demanding our services, or rattling off a list of the latest and greatest that they need.

Entitlement mentality has become a greater threat and concern recently due to the abundant lifestyles we live in our modern times. It’s been said, “The rising generation has been called the laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history.” In generations passed the inherent lack of “stuff and ease of living” motivated less entitlement attitudes. But, would I suggest that we go back in time and give up the modern conveniences we enjoy? No! I don’t believe that’s the problem. I don’t believe that the rising generation is the laziest, rudest or most entitled generation in history, nor do they have to be. However, I would suggest that our efforts as parents must be much more deliberate in guarding against the plague of entitlement than in generations passed.

So, what now?

Many articles across the web encourage parents to “make” their kids work and earn for the things they receive. There is value in giving our children opportunities to work and earn so they understand the law of the harvest, yet entitlement is a feeling that someone, something or the world in general owes you. These thoughts and feelings can be carried whether a person works or not. Entitlement cannot be forced out of a person, nor can the antidote for entitlement be forced in. The antidote for entitlement is not work, but rather, gratitude!

Gratitude is the cure for entitlement! Gratitude has the power to turn arrogance to humility. It turns demands into gentle invitation, and ignorance to understanding. Gratitude has to be taught, caught and experienced. Gratitude is never forced.

3 Ways to encourage gratitude and crush entitlement:

1. Serve without keeping score.

Whether it is helping to make a meal for a sick neighbor, working in grandma’s garden, or visiting a homebound widow, it is important to include our children in acts of service. When we allow them opportunities to forget themselves and recognize the greater needs of others, it can fill both us and them with gratitude for what we have.

It’s imperative to realize, and then teach our children, that we must serve without keeping score or expecting reciprocal transactions in return. Too often we serve as a form of emotional or relational blackmail that we store up in an effort to motivate and even manipulate others. People say, “I can’t believe you won’t do this one little thing after I’ve done so much for you.” This kind of reciprocal transaction can actually display and encourage entitlement. But when we serve without conditions, our minds and hearts soften and the result is gratitude!

As we serve others, including our children, without thought of return, we experience and share genuine love and gratitude. The following poem by Mother Teresa illustrates this principle so beautifully…

Mother Teresa – Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable,
illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

2. Show thanks for everything.

Use the words “thank you” a lot! When your kids take out the garbage or follow directions, say, “thank you.” When your children go out for ice-cream with you or read a book with you, say, “thank you.” When someone opens a door for you at Walmart, say, “thank you.” When the Lord blesses you, say, “thank you.” No one has to do nice things to us. We are not entitled to the obedience of our children any more than they are entitled to every toy and treat in the grocery store. In order to squash entitlement and encourage gratitude, we must show gratitude and encourage our children to do the same.

Years ago I had a profound experience when my father taught me gratitude through his example. When I was twelve years old, I went on a backpacking trip with my father and scout troop. At the end of our first day of hiking, we realized it was almost seven miles longer than we had anticipated to our first camp destination. It was dark when we arrived and everyone was tired. As I rounded the last turn before our short decent into the lakeside campground, I saw my father sitting on a rock overlooking the lake. He waved to me to come and sit by him. When I sat down, he put his arm around me and we sat in silence for a couple minutes before he said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” He then expressed to me how grateful he was for the beauties of the earth. I don’t even have to close my eyes to capture the picture of that mountain lake scene. The full moon was shimmering on the lake. There were evergreen trees all around, and the night was completely still. The image and feeling of gratitude that accompanied this moment with my father has been a pervasive force for good throughout my life.

Look for the good in people and things and openly express thanks for those things and people. Simple expressions of gratitude for everyday things can make significant impact on a child and instill in them a feeling of gratitude that will stick with them throughout their life.

3. Show your kids the struggles and sacrifices of others.

Reading is a sacred thing in our home. My wife has a great talent for selecting books to read with my boys that instill values and wonderful feelings of awe and gratitude. In particular they have read, Little Britches, Little house on the Prairie, as well as, Old Yeller, and some of the American Girl books. These stories have been entertaining, but even more than that, they have left my boys with jaws dropped and wide eyes over the primitive lifestyle the characters lived. There have been countless times they have said, “Wow,” when they learned about kids their age that worked in mines, herded cattle or had to fetch water at a creek a mile from their home in preparation for every mealtime.

We read and tell them scripture stories, stories of slaves, stories of refugees and stories of brave men and women throughout history that faced incredible odds and made amazing sacrifices to pave the way for the life we now live. We learn of inventors and innovators that put in hours and hours of learning, trying, failing and then finally succeeding. History is full of men and women that you can’t help but be grateful for. Learning their stories helps us and our children see what we have and feel genuine gratitude for it.

It doesn’t have to be Thanksgiving to think of how you might be more deliberate in infusing gratitude in your children. Find a way to serve. Remember to say thank you, and tell them a story of those that have gone before them. Show them what gratitude looks like. Take the time to teach gratitude and create an environment of gratitude that makes it easy for them to experience it, catch it and carry it throughout their lives and into the next generation. If we do this, our abundance will not be the source of the laziest, rudest and most entitled generation in history. Rather it will give way to the most enlightened, insightful and grateful generation in history. For gratitude is the cure for entitlement!

Question: What stories from your life have taught you gratitude?

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