The other day I was speaking to another mom at my daughter’s school about privilege.
Both of our children go to a school where most (although certainly not all) of the students come from families where money is not a big issue and we both are on the lower end of the spectrum from a financial standpoint compared to many of the other families at the school.
This doesn’t matter to either of us because we are grateful for what we do have. Our children do not need for anything, they are clothed and well-fed, and while extra-curricular activities may be a financial stretch for us, we are able to have our children participate in most of the activities they want to participate in.
We both know that there are many, many families in this country that do not have those things.
We were talking about how to instill that awareness in our own children in an age-appropriate manner. How do you promote a sense of gratitude in your children for what you have, and a sense of empathy for those who have less?
A big part of having a positive mindset involves being grateful for what you have. This doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) strive for more, but appreciating what you do have will help keep your thoughts from slipping into negativity. Young children have no problem with this, because their sense of awareness of the world around them is very limited. They don’t know that their neighbor on one side of the fence had their Thanksgiving meal catered so that they could go out as a family on a horse-drawn carriage ride before sitting down to dinner, while the neighbor on the other side only has a turkey because it was donated. They’re just happy to spend time with family and eat the tasty food in front of them.
As they get older, however, their sense of awareness of the plight of others grows, but it is unfortunately usually directed at the other children who have more. Suddenly, the fact that Sally from school has horseback riding lessons and her own pony becomes an issue if they can’t have the same. The idea that they don’t have something when someone else does, or that they can’t have that thing because of money, becomes a point of contention. At that point, they can easily and quickly devolve into a mindset that is ruled by negativity and thoughts of disparity.
So how do you stop that mindset before it gets to that point?
I think the holiday season is a wonderful time to start instilling a sense of gratitude in our children (although the efforts certainly shouldn’t stop with the coming of the new year). This is a time where society as a whole is more aware of people who are struggling, and we work together to make the holidays nice for everyone, regardless of their individual financial situations.
Personally, I am starting my journey with my daughter down this path with our Santa tradition. It is something I have thought about deeply since she was born; I don’t want to tell her Santa isn’t real outright, because I love the fun and the magic surrounding this tradition. But I also want her to know that the gifts she receives at Christmas aren’t coming from a magical source that is unconstrained by real world expectations. I also want to instill a sense of empathy and understanding in her, as I think part of the spirit of the holiday season should include time spent caring for others.