Guest Post: Teaching Contentment to Our Children

ContagiousContentment

My friend Carla is such a blessing. She’s the first Owensboroan I ever met, and the way we were introduced was such a fun little hug from God. She was the smiling, friendly reassurance that I would “find my tribe” here!  Not only do I love hanging out with her at playdates and small group, but I also love, love, LOVE her online presence. She has “caught” the contentment contagion, and today I’m pleased to have her guest posting here with her thoughts on encouraging our children to have contented hearts!

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Michelle challenged me to write a post about contentment to link up to the wonderful series she has going on contentment.  She said she thought it would go well with my year of Embrace as well as my 2,014 Items in 2014 posts.  I heartily accepted the challenge right away knowing exactly which direction I would go with the post.   We’ve been struggling for a few months now with helping Katie feel content with what she has and I’ve sorta been cranky about it lately.  There’s nothing like a blog post to help you sort through your thoughts and help you see a situation from multiple angles.  But before I begin to pick the age appropriate splinter from my daughter’s 4 year old eye, let me work on digging that old plank out of my own!

I held onto a lot of things as a child. I saved every card, letter, school paper, etc.  My closet was piled high with memento tubs.  Surely my children would love to see the “A” I got on a vocabulary quiz in second grade!  I also held very sentimental attachments to certain toys.  I had a pet net and a pet chain decorating my room.  If I ever put one of my favorite dolls on either rather than in my bed with me, I felt the weight of their eyes staring at me in sadness.  I literally couldn’t sleep until I rescued them from their cages.  I identified quite well with sweet Andy at the end of Toy Story 3 and I may or may not have cried when Woody and Buzz watched their owner drive off into the sunset.  To be completely honest, several of the toys we have in the playroom today were mine as a child.  I’m even guilty of gifting vintage Barbies to Katie for Christmas last year!

How appropriate it is, indeed, that my little Katie loves all things Toy Story.  Here we are years later and a new generation is finding all those sweet pieces of childhood difficult to part with.  I’m sure Katie senses pressure to let go of things because I haven’t always been as gentle as I should be about suggesting we let go of a few toys.  I suppose in many ways I’m hoping that we can guide our daughters to be less attached and sentimental to objects than we were as kids.

In an effort to meet Katie where she is and establish some foundation for learning delayed gratification and contentment, we’ve implemented the following strategies (the credit for all of these ideas belongs to people much more creative than me) :

 

1. Set up a toy rotation

Toy rotations can work in many different ways.  Some people get very creative and have different boxes with different themes of toys to engage their child on different days of the week.  I haven’t put nearly as much effort into it.  We have a red paper box at the top of the play room closet affectionately referred to as the “red box.”  In this box, I will secretly slip toys that I am either annoyed by or notice aren’t being played with as much anymore.  If Katie notices an item is missing she will ask if I can “look for it in the red box.”  If toys are in the red box for several months, I will ask Katie if she’s ready to part ways.  Most of the time the answer is no and the item is suddenly very important again.  But that’s a win-win for inspiring creativity and for giving her something to play with that sorta feels new all over.

 

2. Start a wish list

Another tool in our kiddie contentment toolbox is the Wish List.  A parenting guru I follow suggests that we acknowledge our children’s desires that cannot be granted through wishes.  Katie interprets that as, let’s add what I want to a literal wish list.  So I have a running Katie Wish List on my phone and she asks me to add items to that list.  It’s really cool that she trusts that I’m keeping a legitimate list considering that she can’t read and basically takes my word for it.  But it also serves to remind me of what to suggest to family when they ask for gift ideas as well as reminding Katie of her outstanding wishes.  Although, she is pretty darn accurate at remembering wishes she’s had on the list for months.

 

3. Give an allowance

I must give Katie credit for the self-discipline she has shown with the wish list.  She has been content to wait for a highly anticipated item for months as long as it’s on the list.  But over the past couple of months, the wish list began falling out of favor.  So it hit me, or perhaps the Spirit impressed upon me, that Katie could be ready for an allowance.  And let me tell you, this has been A.MA.ZING!!!

Steve and I agreed years ago that we did not want to give our children a performance based allowance, whether chore based or academic based.  We want to give our children a set amount of money (for now $1 a week feels right) and then teach them the fundamentals of financial responsibility.  As the girls get older, I’m sure the amount will increase and the rules may change or even be different for each child.  We already foresee that we may provide additional income opportunities.  For example, Katie has been a big help in babysitting Levi so I’ve been giving her a dollar of my income.  And we may give extra money for non-routine chores such as vacuuming out a vehicle or weeding the flower bed.

Katie for PP Post
Katie proudly showing off a collection of dolls, one of which she purchased with her first saving up of allowance. She has also purchased a basic $3 yoyo which she added princess stickers to so that it could be as fancy as an expensive yoyo. Future plans include saving up for a “soft Elsa” to take on vacation with us this fall.

 

4. Model contentment

A huge part of parenting in general is modeling the behavior you desire out of your child.  Modeling contentment is no exception.  How can I suggest that they give away their things or resist the urge to own new things if I am not willing to do the same?  This also makes me realize that I should have an open dialogue with my daughters about why I’m taking a load of items to Goodwill or how giving a bag of clothes we no longer need to someone else is an important task.  Of course, this must be explained with a sense of humility.  Other ways I can model contentment is to not choose window shopping as a regular form of entertainment, not sign up for retail catalogs, nor use internet shopping as a distraction from spending time with my children.  Not that shopping has to be a chore or can’t be enjoyed, but frequently placing ourselves in a situation that tempts us to go against things we stand for is not a positive model.

 

5. Have an attitude of gratitude

Lately, I’ve been feeling a calling from the Holy Spirit to view life through a lens of gratitude.  If we are grateful for what we have, who we are, and Whose we are, there’s no excuse to be discontent.  I’m realizing this is also something I need to model and discuss with Katie and eventually with Karis.  If they hear me verbalize how grateful I am for the hand me down clothes, the gently used baby equipment (thanks, Michelle, for both!), or the bargain price on an item, they learn that we can be content with what’s placed in front of us.  We don’t always have to go looking for the latest and greatest just because it exists.

 

Thank you for allowing me to share my ideas on how we can teach contentment to our children.  If you are interested in perusing any of my past or future musings about living out my dream, join me over at Pursuing Prairie!

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Carla joins her cousin in blogging about their “journey toward a simpler and more sustainable lifestyle” at Pursuing Prairie.  Carla is a stay at home mom to 2 precious girls, 4 and 1 years of age, Wifey to an amazing husband, and all around jack of all homemaking trades.

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MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Teaching Contentment to Our Children”

  1. See, this is why I knew you needed to post on this topic. LOVE your ideas! We do toy rotation, too, and wish lists (but ours seem to fade in and out of existence close to holidays and birthdays and are forgotten in the middle of the year). We haven’t been consistent with an allowance (we pay for ‘extra’ effort chores and we negotiate commissions 😉 Jonas in particular is quite good at haggling for how much he believes a job is worth!) and I am going to be mulling that one over now.

    The only other one I would add that’s been helpful for us has been to dissect commercials. When I hear a lot of “wants” cropping up based on something my kids have seen advertised, I start talking about how that company created that commercial for a reason: to make you want it! We talk about how commercials sometimes make things look better than they really are; we talk about how the commercial is designed to convince you to spend your money on it. (Those hard-earned laundry dollars sure do feel different to spend than mama’s vague checkcard dollars! Talking about some gimmicky toy in terms of how many baskets of laundry would have to be folded to afford it – really changes their perception. I think that trying to help kids understand the motivation behind advertising helps them form a healthy skepticism of ads and hopefully, helps them resist the “gimmees” ads can inspire.

  2. Ah yes commercials… We haven’t been exposed to too many commercials – yet – with PBS and Netflix being our main sources of juvenile entertainment. BUT! It only takes a split second of a commercial or walking past an end cap at Walmart to produce a “PLLLEASE MOMMY”!!!! Thanks for the tips on how to gently connect about the truth behind the message! Even as adults it’s good to stop and think about the motive behind even subtle sales pitches.

    As a kid my allowance was based on different things, with chores occasionally being involved. I can appreciate that we as parents sometimes have to change the game. But I’m hoping we can be more consistent with our kids. We will likely keep the weekly “handout” low to encourage them to go above and beyond. I love that Jonas negotiates. What a good skill to learn for many future arenas!!

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Ephesians 2:8-9

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