Over the holidays, I had the less-than-brilliant idea of letting the kids open a few gifts in advance of Christmas.
We selected a small gift for my seven-year-old son to open on the 23rd, a little transformer. He opened the gift and played for a minute or two before declaring that he wasn’t really keen on the gift and wanted to open a different gift or return this one to the store in exchange for another. Certainly not his best moment of gratitude or my best moment of parenting as I launched into a solid lecture on why what he said was ungrateful and not okay. His tears flowed as he reminded me about last year when I had told him that it’s okay to be honest with me if he didn’t like a gift. Oops! Not only did I forget about that, but I also lost sight of the big picture – his umbrella of wellbeing.
For me, there are a few takeaways from that moment.
First, while my son may not have been great at gratitude in that moment he was very authentic, sharing his true feelings with me which I, in return, told him were not okay. Instead, I could have thanked him for being honest with me and explained a better way to share those feelings. Recognizing kids for being honest and authentic is a great way to help them use that strength more often.
Second, the skills of wellbeing are built over a lifetime. We can look at childhood as a time of building towards a fuller expression of these skills. In that context, my son is at best one-third of the way to a complex development of gratitude. There was really no need at all to get on my parenting soap box; rather, I should have coached him through the process of developing and understanding gratitude. All too often we use frustration or out-of-proportion responses that can suppress our child’s authenticity. By viewing your children as works in progress, you can relax about the small moments and help them build their identity through their own trial and error.
In fact, we are all a work in progress and it’s important to look at ourselves this way too. Parenting is a tough job and mistakes are normal and expected. Make sure you are equally kind to yourself as your umbrella continues to grow.