Recently I spent an entire day treating my six-year-old son to a trip to the museum, the park, and the ice-cream shop. When we stopped to purchase a Christmas present for my nephew, my son demanded I buy him a new toy too. When I refused, he threw a tantrum! After all I did for him, I got complaints. How do I teach him to be more grateful?
I don't have an easy answer to this question. When I was young, my parents would answer my whining with, "I'm sorry, honey, but we just can't afford it." I knew that was true and a temper tantrum wouldn't change anything. These days many families can afford little luxuries. Our children see us buying wants instead of needs, and they want a piece of the pie. Our kids get so much, they begin to expect it. Then the one time we don't give something to them, they get angry because they feel it's their right to have it.
In the long run, it may be more loving to tell your child "no" even when it's within your power to say "yes." Here's a silly, personal example. When I had toddlers, we rarely bought Happy Meals, but not because we were health-conscious or because we didn't want to be caught in the drive-thru lane. Instead, I bought them each a hamburger, and they split an order of fries and a soft drink. It was plenty for my toddlers, and they didn't complain. So on the special occasions when they did get the "whole enchilada," complete with toy (at the fast-food Mexican restaurants, of course!), they were extremely grateful. Their gratitude was an automatic response to getting something they didn't expect.1