How to Teach Appreciation and Gratitude to My Almost 7 Year Old

Updated on January 14, 2010
D.S. asks from Anchorage, AK
16 answers

Ok here is my problem... My step-son is about to 7 at the end of this month. The problem is that he does not so any appreciation or gratitude for what he has. Let me tell you a little back ground. Last year I was not in town for his birthday so he ended up having 2 birthdays, one on our side and another one on his mom's side. Since that has happen he has developed an "expected" attitude. He wanted 2 Halloween costumes this year because he could be a "ninja" at his moms and then something else with us. We made it though Halloween with only one costume but now it is time for his birthday. We told his mom that we only wanted one birthday where "all" of his friends can be together, but she told us that she wanted to do something on her own. Now, he has told us that he wants at birthday with us too so his friends can come and give him presents. We asked him what if his friends don't give him a present? And his reply was he would be mad.

After this conversation, we decided to not give him a birthday because all he wanted was "presents" from his friends. I don't want to punish him for the differences between the houses but how do you teach an almost 7 year old how to appreciate what he gets and what he already has? Help, I am at my wits end with his attitude!!

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answers from Denver on

Perhaps you already got this suggestion, but how about a "donate to a charity" gift request? Maybe he gets to pick a charity that he would like people to support, or has an opportunity to learn about the ones that his friends' families pick.



answers from Colorado Springs on

He's a bit too young to tell his friends not to get him anything, but maybe you could contact the parents & let them know what's going on. Don't tell them they've got a money limit, but let them know the problem & what you're trying to do to fix it & ask if they can keep their gift under a certain amount please (but that's only okay if you know the parents).
If his mom is going to have a big party for him, there's no reason that you need to have another party. It sounds like you are at least on speaking terms w/mom-maybe you can alternate years of "big" parties. My boys switched to parties every other year after kindergarten. We still do a birthday dinner & gifts, but no party with friends.
A friend told her girls that if they didn't learn to appreciate the toys they had, they would start standing outside the Goodwill store & hand out their gifts to kids who don't have as much as they do. I weed through toys before every birthday & Christmas, taking out what they don't play with much & making room for the new stuff. You could do something like that & let him know that for every new gift, he's got to donate a toy for kids who don't have as many as he does-if he gets 4 toys, he donates 4 (but not the McDonald's toys, my boys tried that once).
Good luck!

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answers from Provo on

Instead of giving him a party this year from "your" house, you could say that since he's having a party at his mom's you are going to do a service project or other activity that will let him give back instead of always receiving. Maybe have a birthday party for the homeless kids? Work at a soup kitchen? We can't just tell our kids that giving is better than receiving, we have to show them and give them opportunities to experience it.

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answers from Colorado Springs on

Your seven-year-old is a smart cookie who knows how to size up a situation! Two families, twice as many presents, right? Seems logical to me! It's certainly logical to a child.

For what it's worth, many people four or five or six times that old don't get the whole gratitude business, either! They don't appreciate what they have because they don't notice what they HAVE. Gratitude has to be learned by us all - nobody's born with it.

You need to let the teaching begin with you, of course, since you're the grownup. How thankful are you, out loud, for things? Start speaking it. Be thankful for your children, for your husband, for your home, even when the plumbing doesn't work. Look for things to appreciate - the littlest things. Look for positive things in life and respond to them with thankfulness. When anybody gives you something or does something for you, write that person a note of thanks.

You might talk with your husband about how to celebrate some events without loot. When your own birthday comes up, for instance, could you give your family members presents (small ones!) instead of receiving them? Or could you do some sort of giftless celebration, like going somewhere special instead? If materialism is downplayed in general at your house, but fun isn't (!), your son will begin to catch on.

I don't know where or how you live, but when my children were small we knew families with very little materially and my kids learned how to do things for them (and others) without letting on who was doing those things. Their school helped out families who needed help, too, and my kids' appreciation for what they had increased at those times.

Seven is still pretty young. Your smart boy is just getting to a point where he's becoming really aware of other people as people, not just "wait staff." This is a great time to begin modeling appreciation at your home! You're a very savvy mom and your children are blessed to have you.

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answers from Salt Lake City on

Definately tackle gratitude on a daily basis as to model and teach. Maybe play a game at supper to see how many times as a family we can say thank you for things. Or when someone says they are thankful make sure you give a hug with "you're welcome" and let them know how happy you feel inside knowing you were able to help them be happy. He will eventually learn, but its still important to tell him before situations like parties how yo expect him to behave after receiving gifts from people. I like the thank you card idea too!



answers from Denver on

We have a large extended family, where everyone lives close by. When my kids make "wish lists" for gifts, they had to ask for something that they did not already have and could not upgrade to something that was like what they already had. Ie. My oldest son stills plays with his old Game Boy, and never got the Nintendo DS, or DSI. They soon had a time figuring out what new thing to get. We have a lot, but our a lot does not look like everyone elses. Our birthday parties have been "no gifts" for years. We encourage the same for relatives, except parents and grandparents. If there is a relative that wants to do something special to acknowledge a birthday we encourage an investment of time. We have one set that always takes the birthday child to dinner, another that takes them to Dairy Queen and still another where they go and shoot bb guns, bake, or whatever the child is into that year.

I realize I also have to model gratitude. I try to be aware of how much I have and to have the same rules for myself as I have for my kids. Trust me, I have wanted the new iphone, or the ipod touch since they came out. :) I talk about how easy it is for me to get caught up in stuff, so it is even harder for them.
Set your own rules, and stick by them regardless of what is happening at the other house.
Hard thing to teach, and a long process. I admire you for caring so early on.



answers from Salt Lake City on

The answer to your dilemma is service, not deprivation.
I notice you are in Utah. The Christmas Box House is a wonderful and reputable charity that serves as transitional housing for children who have been removed from their homes, until adequate foster care arrangements can be made. Their wish list is posted online, and they are always in desperate need of new items to help chidlren feel comfortable and settled after being forced to leave their homes and families.
My sons (my oldest is also 7) really enjoyed going shopping with a budget and the wish list and finding a few toys, books and pajamas to give to the kids at the Christmas Box House. I noticed they were honestly as excited about giving stuff as they were about getting stuff--it was the thrill of shopping that satisfied them, and they had a great time thinking of what little boys their ages would be excited to get.
The Christmas Box House also needs birthday party supplies to celebrate with kids whose birthdays come while they are staying there--many have never had a party in their lives. Cake mixes, party hats, etc., are all gratefully accepted and make a child's life a little more fun during a crappy time. Perhaps your son would like gathering items for another party "kit" to donate? He can have one party, and then give away another party?
You could culminate a donation shopping trip with luch at a restaurant and his gifts at home, so there would be no let-down.
There are lots of other ways he could celebrate his birthday--donations of pet supplies to the animal shelter, spare change to Mothers Without Borders so other children can have school supplies and clean water, choosing new books for his school's library with a "Given in honor of Joe's Seventh Birthday" sticker inside, etc., etc.
I suggest you avoid laying on any guilt or punishment about his seemingly selfish tendencies. He is still learning and if you want unselfishness to come sincerely and cheerfully, sharing must be a happy thing, demonstrated often and played like a happy game. It's not wrong for him to like his stuff, as long as his stuff isn't the only thing that defines him.
It's OK for him to remember last year's double-party-circumstance as amazing and lucky, and you can validate that two parties were tons of fun but that's not an every year thing.
I got a lot out of the book "52 Weeks of Fun Family Service" by Merilee Boyack. Some of the projects were big, some were small, but they all gave me ideas of how to involve my children in thinking beyond themselves.
Best wishes!



answers from Denver on

I would explain that birthdays/birthday parties are for celebrating who he is and having fun with friends and family, not just getting presents. In terms of having a second party maybe you could have friends bring things to donate, or have your son donate some of his old toys to balance out getting new ones. I would also recommend making giving to others and appreciating what he has a part of his whole life so that you don't have to confront this issue each birthday.



answers from Great Falls on

D., THIS is a good thinking you do, yet I am afraid it is a little too far, not to allow his friends to have an option to come and celebrate together if on that other side it is not possible to arrange.
In our family, with my 3 ids, we had a tradition that THE BIRTHDAY BOY/GIRL made tiny presents for their coming friends. It is reversed i know, but it worked winders as we had tons of fun thinking on the pictures that the friend would really like and then drawing them on little cards and coloring, or making origami swans of friendship, or blowing up the balloon then drawing something funny-friendly with the friend's name on it, then letting the air out again and packing the balloons separately into tiny little wrapped presents.
The preparations started way before the actual birthday as the friends were many.
At the end, my 3-year old greeted his friends at the door, saying the funniest sentence of:
but he developed this joy of giving that overweighed the joy of receiving:
to see the excited faces of friends while they unwrap their unexpected little hand-made present from the birthday-boy is double~worth the effort of long preparations.

So, this is my advice to you, dear ones, sit down TOGETHER - you and your dear boy, and make a list of friends to come, then help your boy to decide what surprise-present he can and wants to make for every one (something small and simple, but made by himself, DO NOT GO TO THE STORE TO BUY ANY TRINKETS FOR FRIENDS, THAT WILL RUIN THE WHOLE POINT! - and HELP him this year to prepare the presents. Tell him how much fun it is to find out that sharing and giving to friends defies the laws of physics because the more you give the more you receive back ending up with more than you had!!!! (In physics, and mathematics, the more you give away, the less there is left - but in Friendship and caring love, the more you give the more you have!
This is the law that he has to learn "on his own skin" so to say and this situation with the birthday is an amazing learning experience for him to live through and to remember for a long time.
I am asking you not to take the day away from him but to monitor it into the right flow of learning experience that will end with wisdom and joy!

Wishing you all the very best,
and HAPPY COMING BIRTHDAY for your dear Boy!



answers from Salt Lake City on

A lot of it is part of the age. 7 year olds are still learning that the world is not all around them. As far as the birthday, it doesn't hurt anything to not have a friends party every year. Some years we have a friends party, other years we don't, and our kids have learned to accept it.

As far as general gratitude, the best way is through example. Help him remember to say "thank you" when someone helps him or gives him something. (Even when we trick or treat I expect my kids to thank every person). Sincerely thank people. Also talk about what you are grateful for. Point out things that you are lucky to have - even that you have good food on the table!

It will take time, but the more adults he sees who set the example, the easier he will learn it.



answers from Denver on

What has worked with my son, but still needs some reminders is to have an allowance. He understands the value of a dollar, and also can respect when we tell him no for a financial reason. He can also see the background in it and realise how hard the family has to work for what we have. Its let to a lot of deep conversations. Maybe spend some more one on one time with him, maybe take him to a shelter. I've started an award chart, and for every check mark my son and daughter get 5 cents. Its not a lot, but they can potentially earn over 6 bucks through the week. They both have a savings account, and we have tried not to focus on the materialist things for birthdays and events. Its very hard at this age, especially if hes the only one this age. Good luck!



answers from Salt Lake City on

I read this in a Family Fun magazine and thought it was a neat idea. The family in the article played "The Present Game". Each member of the family went around the house and found items to give one another. The items were only for the game and not to be kept. Then they opened the gift (they put them in a bag for each person). Then the person receiving the gift had to give a genuine "Thank You" to the person for the gift stating something they liked about the gift. Green is my favorite color; Baby dolls are cute; etc. Here is the link to the article:

Good Luck!




answers from Denver on

I would suggest that (in addition to the great suggestions from the others here) you expose him to other kids / families who are not so fortunate. Does he know that some kids go to bed hungry every night? that some families don't have a home? Show him pictures or talk about things like that, or even go to a homeless shelter or food bank with him. That may help provide some perspective.



answers from Denver on

I wouldn't worry too much about it he's still a little boy. I remember being a kid and all important holidays and birthdays was about the fun stuff you would get and do. I was a bit selfish as a kid but as an adult I am more excited about buying stuff for others and appreciate when I am thought about. My daughter still is about presents, but over this last year ( she is going to be 7) she is also starting to understand about the joy of giving and makes stuff for me and my husband all the time. I think if you as a parent model gratitude and and appreciation, he will get it as he gets older. Gratitude is not something you can teach, only learn. Perhaps instead of having a big party have him invite a friend or two over to go to a movie or do something together, celebrate with a cake. Its his birthday and let him feel special. Also go through all his old stuff and pick out some things to give to shelters. Talk about how there are other kids that don't have homes and things and how lucky he is. Perhaps you could start letting him earn an allowance so he can see how hard you work to earn stuff or money ( which ever you feel more comfortable with) Your right it is very frustrating, but he sounds like a normal kid. Also food for thought, people have different ways of perceiving love and showing it. Perhaps gifts is your sons way of seeing affection. Good luck.



answers from Boise on

Does he write thank you notes? If not, now is a good age to start. Our kids write thank you notes after every birthday and Christmas, and they started doing so right around age 6 or 7. If they start to complain or whine about doing it, we tell them that the thank you notes must be written before they use any of the gifts they've received! Writing notes or letters of any kind seems to be a lost art these days. Having to sit down and write out your appreciation to another person, then addressing the envelope and using the old "snail mail" to send it lets the person receiving your note know you took the time to think about and write it. It means so much more than a verbal thank you. And the sooner kids get in this habit, the easier it becomes. They even make "beginner" thank you notes that have a fill-in-the-blank format. Or make your own! Kids can decorate them with stickers or other artwork and really feel proud of it. Ultimately, kids will appreciate what they are given by others if they take the time to thank the giver.

If you do give him a party, you can let him know that he will be writing thank you notes to all of those who bring him gifts. You may be at a disadvantage to implement this since you are not the bio-parent, but you can certainly make the suggestion to his dad and mom. (His parents are probably trying to compensate for their divorce by giving their son too much, and they don't think about his ingratitude because they feel guilty about their not staying together to raise him.) Good luck!



answers from Salt Lake City on

Sorry this is bugging you. Take a deep breath. He's been through a lot. He's so young. Kids can't learn to have a better attitude by being forced into something.

Punishing him for his attitude will NOT help him.

Kids that young learn from example. He's not a bad kid. If it were me, I'd let him have a birthday party at my house regardless of what his mom did for his birthday. Consider it giving back for all the issues/emotions he has to deal with in having 2 families.

Here's the important part:
prompt him. Tell him before the party, "you'll like some presents more than other presents...but I want you to remember that each person took time to pick out something especially for you. Each present is not only a present but also shows that someone really cares about you. and I really care about you, too. Just like when it was XXXXXX's birthday and we picked out a present especially for him.

so when I'm opening presents, even if it's not my favorite present, I always tell them thankyou. Because it makes me happy to know they care about me."


Then tell him that usually you either thank each person verbally when you open the present or send a thankyou card after. Ask him which one he would rather do.

Also let him know this tip: moms and dads are happier when you ask for things in a nice way. we like to give you things, but when you're grumpy it makes us grumpy.

say these things, not when you're fighting, but just on the side.

at his party, if he forgets to say say it. "Wow, [son] that was really nice gift. Who gave it to you? Oh, thank you ______. Very cool :)"

It's not just a matter of respect, but also self-esteem. You don't want to turn it into a power struggle. He's young enough that if he has a bad attitude it's cuz his friends are like that and he just doesn't know how to have a good attitude. Help him...prompt him...but don't force him. Guys hate that. Even the little ones.

make sure you shower him w/ lots of approval--nods and smiles and "good job" and "proud of you" when he gets it right.

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