Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thoughts On Kindness, Gratitude And Veruca Salt

Veruca Salt (the 2005 movie version)
Still spoiled and entitled

I took my daughter shopping the other day. Mostly, this was because she has insisted on wearing the same dress and the same pair of shoes every single day for the last month and a half and I was sick of seeing them (and, to be honest, those shoes were starting to stink) but it was definitely not because she needed anything. I should preface this by saying that our dear daughter has been going through a phase that any mother of an almost 4-year old is probably familiar with: occasional possession by the devil. In fact, my delightful, kind, empathetic daughter suddenly transforms into Veruca Salt (the obnoxious, spoiled child in the Willie Wonka movie) at any given moment making we worry that those who don't know her will simply think she is just a "brat".  

As we sat, trying on sparkly, light-up, festooned, girly shoes she whined and moaned about how she didn't like them and they were uncomfortable and the man should bring others and then...."MOMEEEE! I want shoes NOW! BUY ME SHOOOOES!" I felt the heat rise in my face and my eyes bore holes into her head as I clenched my teeth and tried to remain calm while telling her to change her tone of voice and ask me in a kind way for what she wants. And in the back of my head I heard Veruca singing:

I want a party with rooms full of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don't get the things I am after
I'm going to scream!

I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now
Don't care how
I want it now
Don't care how
I want it now"

the unavailable desired item
Really? Who was this kid? I was mortified. After eliciting a somewhat appropriate tone of voice and buying the two pairs of shoes we needed, I realized that I had missed a real opportunity to teach my daughter a lesson about gratitude. In retrospect, I wish I had, instead, calmly told her that she needed to stop speaking to me that way or we would not be buying anything and we would be going home. And then really followed through with that. I wish I had explained all of the things that go into being able to buy her these shoes. I wish I had reminded her that lots of people don't have any shoes, let alone 5 pairs! But I was caught up in wanting to enjoy the afternoon together as we had planned, not wanting to make a scene at the store and really wanting to get those damned shoes so I could throw out those horrible old ones. So I paid and got out of the store as fast as I could while she happily skipped off in new shoes. At least they were a pair of Tom's so our daughter unknowingly provided a pair of new shoes for someone less fortunate. But "unknowingly" is the key word here.

I really am trying to avoid a sense of entitlement with our kids. I know how lucky we are that we can afford to buy things that we don't, technically, need. But do our children get it? How can we expect them to, unless we teach them? I do try, but it takes constant effort. As the end of the year holidays roll around there is greater emphasis on being grateful and giving to those less fortunate. This is a way of being that I would love to instill in our children (and ourselves) year round. Those in need, don't only need at Thanksgiving. But, here it is, a few days before Thanksgiving and I realize, once again, that I haven't made this lesson a priority. Our children aren't ungrateful, they just don't understand the big picture and that's not their fault, it's ours.

Last year we sponsored a local family at Christmas. Our kids helped me buy gifts, wrap them and deliver them to a family who had newborn twins in addition to an already huge number of children. For me, this was a really moving experience and it allowed us to have the discussion with our kids about how some children don't have all the things we take for granted, but I haven't kept that up. With all the emphasis the holidays bring on getting, I have been looking around for additional ways to inspire and educate our kids on the idea of giving and being grateful. So, I've been doing some research and thought I'd share the ideas I've come up with so far.

Part of being able to be grateful is being able to be empathetic. I know our children are just a little young to cognitively understand empathy, but they are almost there, and it is never to early to begin talking and teaching about this sort of thing. If you want your children to understand the lessons involved in doing charity work or in asking them to donate old toys before they receive new ones, you have to first set the stage.

Our daughter, checking out the kindness tree

  • Gratitude. A few months ago we added the question "what are you grateful for today?" at the end of our bedtime routine. Just before last kisses and while we're still snuggled, our children get to consider their day and what meant the most to them. And we share what we are grateful for each day as well. Often we get comments about how they are grateful for strawberries or their blanket, but that's OK. Even once in a blue moon to hear "I am grateful for mommy" is worth all the effort. The other thing I try to do on a regular basis is fill the kids in on exactly what is involved in whatever it is that they're experiencing or receiving. The more they understand all of the work that goes into something, the more they can appreciate it. I have to force myself to let them in on things like preparing meals because it's so much faster/cleaner/easier to do it myself; but what does doing it myself teach them about how much work it is to make a meal? And if they don't know what goes into it, how can they be grateful for it when it's received?
  • Kindness. When the kids were about two years old, we began an ongoing project in our house called "The Kindness Tree". I created a tree out of construction paper that we hung in our dining room. Each time one of the kids does something kind towards the other, they get a leaf on one of the branches with the act of kindness written on it. We periodically read the leaves and show it off to anyone who comes to our house. Once the branches are full of leaves, we do something special to celebrate their kindness towards each other. This has worked well in our house to, at the very least, let the kids know that kindness is a value that is important in our family.
  • Stories are always a great teaching tool. I am always looking for books to read to the kids about things like kindness, compassion, gratitude and helping others. A few I like are the classic, Stone Soup about coming together as a community and the more recent, One about being inclusive, standing up for others and yourself and An Awesome Book of Thanks which is a reminder about being thankful for all you have. If you can't find books, tell them stories of children just like them who have made a difference in the world, like Alexandra Scott of Alex's Lemonade Stand who raised over one million dollars for cancer research before she passed away at age 8 or Kate Stagliano of Katie's Krops who started growing her own food to feed the homeless when she was 9 years old. In the two years since, she has fed thousands and inspired countless people to use their own harvests to feed the needy. Sometimes it just takes a little nudge and a little knowledge to inspire your child.
Once your children are aware of some of what is needed in the world and that they can actually make a difference, ask them where their interest lies then search for nonprofits that support those causes. Here are some ideas of what to do with that passion:

  • Begun by a mom who was moved to help three children affected by domestic violence, this site now connects needy families all over the country with people who are looking to reach out and provide support. Simply plug in your zip code, and you can read the stories of numerous families (many with photos) and decide who you wish to connect with and how you want to help. 
  • Pico Union Family Preservation Network. This is a local Los Angeles non-profit organization that works directly with children and families referred through the Department of Children and Family Services. All of these children are victims of domestic violence, and/or sexual, physical or emotional abuse. These families are some of the poorest in the city of Los Angeles and often the children go without even their most essential needs met. Because their families struggle with having enough food to eat, and money to pay for medical bills, they are unable to provide gifts for their children during the holidays. The social workers are requesting that if you are interested in sponsoring any of these children that you contact Joana Rodriguez by email: or by phone: 213-742-6059 (office) or 323-243-3720 (cell).
  • Heal The Bay. If healing the environment is more your cup of tea, check out an organization like Heal The Bay. There aren't a lot of volunteer projects out there that you can do with young children, but they are welcome to participate in the Nothin' But Sand beach clean ups. Get down to the beach to clear up the garbage left on the sand and washed up from the ocean. It's a great opportunity to teach your children about caring for animals and taking care of the world we live in. If you want to make a day of it, include a visit to Culver City's Star Eco Station. Built to look like a Mayan jungle, they house rescued exotic birds, snakes, alligators, big cats and more. Their one-hour tours do a great job of teaching kids about treating animals with respect and kindness. 
  • Literacy Promotion and Service Learning. Milk + Bookies is a terrific organization where children are able to select, purchase and inscribe books that are then donated to their peers who do not have access to books of their own. Milk + Bookies states that although the books are imperative to their mission, " just as important is instilling the seed of giving into each host and their young guests, sparking feelings of importance, self-confidence and the desire to give and give again". Their website even has great suggestions for throwing a M+B Birthday Party where party guests can bring books to donate instead of more toys for your child (that may not be needed). The founder of Milk + Bookies also has a wonderful website called The Acme Sharing Company who describes itself as "a place where parents can find activities for spending family time with meaning." And furthermore, that "Exposing our children to cause-based adventures is a wonderful way to make giving a part of their lives now and for the future".
I'd like to leave you with this video by the wonderful children's book author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which I found on Acme Sharing this past weekend. In it, she says, "In remembering you, which words will others use [to describe you?]...Of all the possible adjectives, I think that if the word 'kind' appears in the mix, chances are, you have led a life worthy of being remembered".  
I think, at the end of the day, that this is what I want for my children; to be truly connected to their own innate kindness and generous spirits. The moments of "devil possession" are not who my daughter truly is...I know this. I am just struggling with finding the most effective ways to reach her, connect with her and teach her about expressing her best self. 

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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3 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Anonymous said...

I think your daughter and my daughter and the actual twins . . . OMG when did this happen? it still shocks me!! I loved this post. have you read 'have you filled your bucket'? excellent!! a must read for kids.

Beth said...

I love when my girls tell me " you should go buy that for us .........Mommy" "NOW Mommy!" I think my blood curdles.

Linia said...

We've already nicknamed my 11 month old Charlie girl "Veruca." My husband says she gets it from her mother.


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