"My children are so unappreciative! They have so much and yet all they ever do is want and want. They have the latest games and toys and they come home from school asking for more. They see things in the store and ask for it. They see things that others have and ask for it. They are so ungrateful! Help!"
Does that sound familiar? For many moms, this is all too common. We hear our children tell us time and again that they want what their friends have and that ultimately they are not satisfied with what they already have. And we are stumped with how to teach them to be happy and content with what they have. How do we teach them to be pleased with what Allah has already blessed them with? How can we teach them to be satisfied with enough when it is never enough?
It is human to want more and to want what we do not have.
And once we have acquired what we want, we move on to the next thing. This begins at a young age and progresses as we mature. And it seems never to stop. One way to combat this would be to realize
that Allah has blessed us with whatever He has given us and we have to use His blessings in the best way possible. In other words, there are some people whom Allah has blessed with financial security. They have enough money for home and provisions and their children have what they need and most of what they want. In these situations, they see that their children are still asking for more and this is where they find that their children are becoming 'greedy'. These parents are worried that their children do not value what they have and will grow up to under-appreciate the true blessings that Allah has bestowed on them.'
SAYING 'THANK YOU' SAYS SO MUCH
One of the most elementary steps in gratitude is to simply say, "Thank you."
And this applies to us, as well. When our children see us saying "Thank you" to one another, to our own parents and friends and especially to our spouses, they will mimic that behavior. When we say "Thank you," we are not just using good manners, we are showing gratitude to someone else and acknowledging that someone else did us a favor. In this regard, when we say "Thank you," we realize that without that person, we could not have had that thing that this person gave to us. Saying "Thank you" is humbling.
Therefore, when we say "Thank you," we should do so aloud so that our children can hear us and copy us and learn from us. For example, there is no embarrassment in thanking our husbands for taking the family out to dinner.
Regardless of who earns the money, who signs the check, we should be thanking one another often. If the family goes out to dinner, then mom or dad can thank one another for dinner and the children will follow suit. It does not matter who paid and who drove.
Also, we can say "Thank you," for showing appreciation instead of gratitude, like when our children do something that we ask for. We need to be sure to reward good behavior with "Thank you's." When our children feel the joy that these two little words can spread, they might be more willing to spread joy themselves. When we appreciate a deed or an action or even a behavior, we can say "Thank you" as the simplest acknowledgement of that action.
Furthermore, we have to remember that good habits are created, not born. Constancy and redundancy are key to good manners. We have to be consistent with our good manners if we want our children to remember them, as well.
GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION FOR ALLAH ABOVE ALL
Above all, we have to remind ourselves and our children that we owe our gratitude to Allah for what He has blessed us with. We should explain to our children in a non-threatening way that what we have is from Allah and we should always thank Him for it.
Depending on the age of our child, we do not want to instill an unnecessary fear in our child that our home and food and safety can be taken away at any time; however, as adults, we should bear this in mind and be constantly grateful for what we have. We should be saying "Alhumdulillah" regularly and our children should learn this. As adults, sometimes we too forget what we have and get caught up in our daily routines and forget to say 'thanks'. It is no wonder the children are always wanting something new; usually, we as adults are always striving and saving up for some new gizmo or gadget anyway.
TEACHING HOW TO SHARE
When we do have our moments of sanity and good grace and come to appreciate what we have, some of us choose to share the wealth and spread the joy. Many people have this wonderful quality of sharing and giving.
They feel the need to give to others and that makes them feel better than even receiving something. Most of us have heard the saying that "It's better to give than receive." For some, it really is. In fact, the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, encouraged us to give presents, for that promotes brotherhood and makes us closer to one another. Giving a gift to someone makes him or her feel good.
And giving a gift for no reason at all makes one feel much better.
Women in particular are "guilty" of this very kind attribute. In fact, just the other day, a friend of mine gave a group of friends a small but very beautiful gift. She told us that she saw them on sale and thought, "Who can I buy these for? They are just too cute!" So, she thought of her halaqah group and bought ten! She admitted that they were not expensive, but the point remains that the act of giving gave her such joy, and the joy that it gave us was another joy for her, as well. And those of us who share that joy of giving know that emotion and we nod our heads and think of that warm feeling that we get when we give someone a gift (however inexpensive) and they absolutely love it. Don't we want our children to feel that happiness and elation? Don't we want to teach them the joys that we can experience from doing something for someone else instead of wondering what others can do for us all the time?
SHARE BY GIVING
What a great quality to instill in our children: the joy of giving. If we could share with our own children the joy that giving can bring, they can feel for themselves the spirit of sharing and distributing the blessings that Allah has bestowed on them. Following are some suggestions on what we can do to help our children experience this incredible feeling of joy that comes from doing something nice or kind or compassionate for someone else:
Pick Out Gifts
Whether it is for Eid or any other happy event, try to let your children come with you to the toy store and let them pick out the gift for the child for whom you are buying the gift. I know, taking a child to a toy store is tantamount to disaster, but after a few attempts, they will get the point that they are not buying for themselves. The resolve that we are testing, actually, is not theirs but ours. Stick it out and make sure not to get angry or weak. I tried this myself and it worked wonderfully the first time around. My children were both under five when I did this, and I warned them the entire drive to the store that we were not buying Eid gifts for them, rather, for underprivileged children. I took them to the clearance section from which they were allowed to choose toys. I rarely denied them their choices, and just as I suspected, their joy came from just being in the store and imagining the child that would get the toy that they chose. After a few minutes, it did not matter to them that they were not buying for themselves; they were still going through the same actions as if they were. In fact, they were even going home with the toys because we took them home and they helped wrap them.
Also, when letting our children choose gifts, we should encourage them to choose items that they would love for themselves-these things would make the best gifts for their friends. This will explain to them the principle of brotherly love and wanting for your brother what you want for yourself and even putting your brother before yourself. Remind them that Allah rewards us for our good deeds and inshaAllah we will be rewarded for these acts of altruism.
Give for Goodwill
Periodically, we have to downsize our possessions because most of us accumulate new things often and do not eliminate older things often enough. We buy clothes regularly and keep adding to the closet rod, we buy shoes and add them to the pile, we buy books or movies or whatever other knick-knacks that we seem to collect, but we do not replace, we just accrue. And how many of us have more children's toys than we can contain in our own homes?
A good habit would be to replace, if not one for one, at least maybe every month or three or even every six months, some of the clothing or toys that seem to have accumulated and donate them to a charity or even to a friend or neighbor that might not need them but might just want them.
However, we have to get the children involved when we do this. Pick an amount or several items that we and the children would be willing to donate and then we can work with the children to select the items. They pick out older items that they are willing to let go of. They place them in a bag and the bag should go immediately into the trunk of the car or at least out of reach (so no sticky fingers can go snooping into the bag later to retrieve items once someone's mind has changed).
Note that the same can be done with money. If our children have their own money (Eid money, allowance, etc), they can donate a portion of it to whomever they would like. They may hesitate in the beginning, and we should never force them, but as they begin to give, they will develop a 'taste' for it.
Sometimes, at some department and grocery stores, they have signs that you can buy for as little as a $1 (for autism, cancer, etc) and you can write your name on it and they hang it up around the store for the month, accumulating as many of the signs as they can. If our children can donate towards something like this, they will not only feel the spirit of giving, but they will see it because their names will be showcased along with hundreds of others and they will feel a certain pride. This is okay since they are young; later we can teach them that there is really no room for pride in charity.
Again, as we give to any charity of choice, we can explain to our children that other children will be so happy to be able to play with the toys that have been so generously donated. Play up the generosity of your children and see their hearts swell. If they do this often enough, this generosity will follow them into adulthood and they may grow into very charitable adults.
Make Things for Others
Sometimes the greatest joy comes from giving a gift that costs nothing at all. A simple note written with care or a loaf of banana bread baked with love can speak volumes. We can show our children the hundreds of ways that they can make things for others and do things for others to cheer them up or just make them smile.
If we have a sick friend, we can work with our children to think up ways to cheer this friend up. Suggest making a card or drawing a picture. If we know of someone who just moved into the area, we can invite them over for a play-date. We simply have to ask our children, what they would want if they were that other person. "What do you think Aisha would like to do?" you can ask your daughter.
Maybe next time we have to give a gift, we can give a 'coupon' book. Many of us have seen this idea before: adults use this idea frequently. A new mom might receive a coupon for free babysitting from her friends; similarly, our children could make a coupon book for a friend that contains coupons for a play-date; a movie night; lunch or dinner over at each other's house; a sleepover; whatever is pre-approved by you, the parent. The point is that not all gifts need to cost anything. They just require some thought and attention to detail.
Gifts such as the coupon book are examples of ways that we can show our children how to give to someone and experience the joy of giving because it is one of those gifts that the children can actually share with their friends. It is a good introduction to the joy of giving.
There are many other ways that we can teach our children about the joys of giving and sharing. And as we begin to do so together, perhaps we can develop some new ways that work for our own families. We can work together to think up new ways to share with others and give to others. However, the sooner we begin to introduce our children to the joys of giving, the sooner they will begin to experience the wonder of sharing. Only then will they be able to appreciate what they themselves have. Sometimes, to appreciate what we have, we do not need to lose it but rather share it. Rather than depriving ourselves and sacrificing to learn gratitude, we can appreciate what we have by sharing it with others.
Sister Salma Sanwari is a contributing writer for Al Jumuah magazine and has written on topics including parenting in the West and many socio-cultural matters involving the Muslim American Community.