Q: I'm concerned about my little girl's selfish attitude. How do I discourage this behavior and help her develop a grateful heart?
Jim: Yours is a question to which almost every parent -- me included -- can relate. The answer depends upon your daughter's age. Smaller kids may be too young to understand ideas like unselfishness and gratitude. They're still in the process of grasping what it means to be an individual "self" distinguishable from the rest of the world around them. If your daughter is only 5 or 6 years old, there's probably no reason to be overly concerned about her behavior.
It's a different matter where older children are concerned. This is when many parents begin to realize the impact of our materialistic, consumer-driven culture. Advertisers and toy manufacturers aren't in the business of helping moms and dads teach concepts like contentment and thankfulness. From their perspective, kids are a lucrative "market" sector, and they design their publicity campaigns accordingly. As a result, children are conditioned to believe that they're entitled to have everything they want -- right now!
The best way we as parents can counter this is by modeling a grateful and selfless attitude ourselves. As we go through our daily routines, we should remember to express gratitude on a regular basis -- even for simple things. Convey thankfulness to friends, family and co-workers, and not just when they do something special for you. Let people know how much you appreciate them just for who they are.
Another way to encourage gratitude is by serving others who are less fortunate. Volunteer to serve meals at a local rescue mission. Visit shut-ins at a nursing home, or sponsor a poor child in a third-world country. This will increase your family's awareness of their blessings while getting in touch with the needs of people around the world.
Q: Grandma and Grandpa are spoiling my children. They give them whatever they want, sometimes in complete disregard of my wishes. How do I address this without alienating my parents?
Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: Almost every grandparent occasionally overindulges their grandchildren. There's usually little harm in this as long as everyone understands that such occasions are to be viewed as exceptions and don't become expectations. Your reference, however, to Grandma and Grandpa's "complete disregard of your wishes" leads me to think that you may be dealing with a bigger issue. If they're deliberately undermining your authority as a parent, you need to take decisive steps to address the problem -- and soon.
I suggest you get a baby-sitter and schedule a dinner out with your parents. Begin the conversation by letting them know how much you love and appreciate them. Then explain that something's come up that you'd like to discuss.
Tell them you are working hard to teach your children the importance of obedience, discipline and respect for authority. Explain that although you appreciate their generosity toward your kids, you feel that their actions are hurting your efforts. Identify some specific incidents and share how this made you feel as a parent. Provide reasons for the rules you've established and help them understand why you feel it's important to maintain a consistent standard.
Finally, before having this conversation, take time to consider things from their perspective. If they grew up in depressed circumstances or lower-income homes, they may be simply trying to compensate for their own childhood deprivations by lavishing luxuries on your kids. It's difficult to say how they will react. They may feel hurt for a while, but it's critical that you address the issue before even greater resentment is allowed to build.
Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.