Overindulging Your Kids
Teaching kids to be grateful can mean curbing your own shopping habits
By Wendy Mogel
Jewish tradition encourages adults to say 100 blessings of gratitude a day. To fill a blessing quota this huge, you have to be vigilant about looking for things to be thankful for. Ritually observant Jews don't waste any time. The moment after awakening, they begin with the morning blessings: "Thank you, God, for returning my soul to me." They say another prayer before eating breakfast. Throughout the day, they continue to give thanks at every possible opportunity. The obvious purpose of all these prayers is to increase our awareness of good fortune.
Appreciating What You Have
The rabbis knew how easily we slip from counting our blessings to coveting things, money, and neighbors' spouses. That's why they treated gratitude as a character trait that needed constant vigilance. For the Orthodox this heightened awareness is built into the structure of daily life, but we can all cultivate gratitude in ourselves and our children. It requires doing two things: appreciating what we have and redirecting our desires. In order to effectively teach children gratitude, we parents must start with ourselves. If you lift your mood by a trip to the mall or try to maintain your status by keeping up with the Ornsteins, your children will pick up the not-very-hidden message that acquiring things is a way to reward yourself, feel important, or cheer yourself up.
Even if we manage to get our children to stop asking for so many things, they still won't learn how to be grateful unless they see us practicing gratitude. No one is born feeling grateful; it's an acquired skill. That's why traditional Jewish law forbids spending money on the Sabbath. God commands us to stop shopping and count our blessings on that one day because he knows that left on our own, we wouldn't be so inclined.
A Few Tips
Most non-Orthodox Jews don't observe the no-spending rule on Saturdays, but if you want to nurture appreciation and downplay desire in yourself and your children, here are a few behaviors that might help:
Try not to let a visit to the mall become your most frequent family outing. Consider visiting friends; taking a trip to the park, museum, or library; or going for a walk around the neighborhood instead.
Avoid frequent conversations about how much you want to own things you see advertised on television.
3. Need v. Want
Don't use the word need when you really mean want.
Notice how much you verbalize your envy for other people's things in front of the children.
Don't let mail-order catalogs pile up; try not to let your children see you spending lots of time reading catalogs or shopping online.
6. Other Activities
Teach your child nonmonetary ways to delay gratification. For instance, instead of doing a lot of shopping for a forthcoming vacation, you might say, "I'm really excited about going to Arizona next month. Let's go to the library and check out some books on the Grand Canyon."
Excerpted with permission from The Blessing of a Skinned Knee (Scribner).