How Do You Help Your Children Learn What Matters?


Yesterday morning one of my (sweet-wonderful-almost-always-perfect?) children threw an absolute fit because someone else was sitting in “their” chair at the kitchen counter. We’re not talking about a tiny little sadness because the chair was taken, we’re talking some serious frustation. Over a chair. Really?


I lost it. Every ounce of me was furious, and I couldn’t believe that one of the children I was raising would become so upset over something absolutely meaningless. My response? I did what every good momma would do.  I pulled up a Youtube video of children starving in other parts of the world and (not-so-kindly….) stated “Look at all we have. How on earth can you complain about a stinkin’ chair?!” 


Yup, that old “starving children” plate trick can be taken to entirely new level with our Youtube generation children. 😉


How do we fix this? How do we encourage our children to recognize how incredibly fortunate they are, without taking away all their “oh-so-fortunate” stuff? My husband says I tend to go overboard (you think?) by constantly reminding my kids just how blessed they are, but I think as a child who didn’t grow up with nearly what my own children have, I struggle to not be angry with their complacency. I don’t know how to help them “get it” when they just can’t seem to get it.


I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, or even just a note sharing that I’m not the only one struggling with this one. I hope that by showing them there are those in need all over the world maybe we can spark a desire to help others somewhere deep down that will grow as they become older. If you’ve been able to help your child understand this please share what’s helped in your family, and if you have older children who’ve survived, I’d love to hear how you worked things out. (I don’t want to speed through life any more quickly, but I would love to know that we’re going to make it!) 😉



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  1. Having a 15 year-old-daughter and a 9 year-old daughter, I get to see a wide range of developemental milestones at one time. As a family we have participated in several charitable activities and I truly think that setting a good example for them is the best teacher. THAT being said, sibling rivalry often wins out over all of my good intentions. While my girls are most often caring and giving of those outside our home, they are often most unkind and competive with each other (even with a 6 1/2 year difference in age.) Looking back at my own childhood, I remember some of the same “disagreements” with my sisters who are both my best friends and adults. Mom and Dad just constantly reinforced how important we would be to each other someday.

  2. We are often reminding our children too that others are less fortunate, you’re not the only one. 🙂

  3. You are not alone. It drives me nuts how they always wanting more when they need nothing.

  4. Lindsey Smith says:

    Oh sister we speak the same language. Deacon constantly says “I need” It drives me crazy although he is only 2 and 1/2. We remind him he only needs food, water, and shelter everything else is a blessing.

  5. Wow, this sounds so familiar to my house! We have two boys and struggle with everything being a contest, our everyday fight is over who gets to open the door on the way out to school! Really, wtf! Who cares who opens the door!!! We also have the fight over who’s spot on the couch. The things these kids complain about baffles me.

  6. For those of you with only two, we established even and odd days based on their birth month for things they fight over constantly like the favorite chair in the tv room. But along with that comes the responsibility of helping mom or dad clean up the kitchen after supper. They still fight, but this has solved some of our issues. As far as realizing how lucky they are, I just have to trust that will come with age and maturity and finding out that it ain’t so easy out there in the real world.

    • That’s a great tip Rachel! I definitely went overboard by showing wat the video, but I think we all have moments when our frustration leads us to silly alternatives as parents…. figuring parenting out is so much more difficult than I ever realized! Last night when I prayed with this one at bedtime, we talked it over and both our hearts had settled down and gotten past our frustration.

      Thanks for all your tips and encouragement ~ so good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. 🙂

  7. I don’t know if being grateful for what they have is really the issue to focus on with a situation like you describe. I know I’d feel pretty resentful, to be honest, to be told that what I’m upset about is meaningless because other people have it worse. Being shown a video of suffering children might shut me up for a while, but it would do so while making me feel invalidated and like I can’t express unhappiness with a situation I don’t like, which isn’t emotionally healthy.

    Ultimately, there is always someone out there who has it better and someone else who has it worse, but we all have the lives that we have, and experience things as joys or trials based on the lives that we are living. Sure it can seem ridiculous to pitch a fit over a chair, but the answer in my opinion isn’t to make them feel guilty for being upset. The answer is to provide tools so that they can express their emotions appropriately and constructively, and negotiate and compromise in a healthy and mature way. Emotions should never be negated, the focus should be on actions.

    Is it disappointing and upsetting to have a routine threatened, and to feel like something that is ours has been taken away? Sure! Is it ok to throw yourself on the floor and kick and scream and then whine about it all day on top of that? Absolutely not. How could the situation have been handled better by your child? Give them the power to keep this from happening again. Ask what they need. Do they need help recognizing when their emotions are out of control and they need to take a break and calm down? Do they need help making requests in a more constructive way that will help persuade others and make them feel open to the request? Do they need some help figuring out what to do when a request is denied, like when it is appropriate to make a second request, or offer a compromise, versus when it’s probably better to accept and move on?

    There are books out there on positive discipline that talk about family meetings, that sound like a great tool for these sort of familial conflicts. The basic idea is that when a dispute comes up, like fighting over a chair or toys always being left out and no one taking responsibility to put them away, that item can be put on the Agenda for the next meeting. The act of putting something on the agenda (this would be big and visible in a safe family location) provides a sense of power to the aggrieved, and ensures that they feel heard, while also allowing room for a temporary compromise dictated by mom to be laid down. By bringing the item up again at the meeting, when emotions aren’t fraught, there’s a better chance of everyone brainstorming an agreement that they can all live with and feels fair. And then when a conclusion is reached, further argument can be deflected by reminding folks that everyone agreed to this thing, and if it’s isn’t ok, then it can be renegotiated, but not until the next family meeting. (Family meetings have positive things too, like talking about upcoming fun activities and things like that.)

    I hope I didn’t come off as preachy, and take or leave my thoughts as feels right to you, of course, but I just wanted to provide a different, maybe more hippy-dippy perspective on this sort of situation and how it might be resolved. I really believe that the act of learning to negotiate to get our needs and desires met fosters the kind of compassion and generosity that we hope our children will have. When they feel secure in what they have, but understand that compromise is also necessary, it seems like they would be most able to open their hearts and voluntarily sacrifice when the situation calls for it.

  8. You aren’t alone, hun. I think we as parents all experience the whole gambit of these emotions from time to time. I have a 9 year old and soon-to-be-11 (if she makes it) year old. Life seems to be a CONSTANT competition despite continued efforts to positively reinforce their strengths and accomplishments and all the wonderful things that make them so uniquely them. At times the logic – or glaring lack of it – baffles me and its good to know I am not alone in my frustrations. The most frustrating thing to me is that I sometimes run out of my reserves of patience and want to throw the adult version of the same snit they are having. Logically, I know this will not resolve anything. Emotionally/Mentally? Well, at that moment I would feel better LOL! Either way, just keep your chin up, keep doing what feels right in your head and heart. So far it seems like you are doing a fantastic job of trying to teach them morals, values, priorities, and all those really important character elements that seem so lacking in so many youth today. You are a great role model, and don’t let the little things worry you…as my mom used to tell me, This Too Shall Pass 🙂

  9. I am so thankful to hear other moms going through these same issues. I have a 7 and almost (if she makes it) 10 yr old girls. In the evenings by the time my husband gets home. I look like I’m the one who got beat up by the kids. I like Rachel V. suggestion on even a odd days. I’ll try that at home and if it doesn’t work my girls will be standing at dinner.

  10. I tend to agree with your husband…don’t go overboard. I’m sure your children realize more than you give them credit for and acting spoiled or ungrateful is just a child being a child. My family wasn’t very well off growing up and often struggled, but my one sister still acted like a spoiled brat, so I don’t believe being or acting “spoiled” has that much to do with what you have or don’t have. At least not all the time anyway.

    We have lived in one of the richest counties in the U.S. for the last six years (we are not rich by any stretch of the imagination! but we are comfortable). I used to wonder how living in an area that seemed to be almost unaffected by the recession would impact our kind and generous son. By the middle of high school, he had realized on his own that the kids here (and some adults) live in a “bubble” – not really realizing what the “real world” is or can be like. We are very fortunate to have a blessed life and we do not have to struggle.

    Our son is 18 and half and we have taught him that it is God that gives…but also who takes away (yes, it does happen). Learning and seeing first hand was enough to drive that point home (we lived on the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina and saw neighbors and friends lose everything and lost things ourselves). Still, I wonder at times if we are getting through to him and teaching him the right values. Then I stop and remember what happened two years ago, after the tornados that hit and devastated Alabama and other parts of the South…He came home from school one day and told me that his History teacher had asked all his students to bring in donations for the victims. He was excited and the next afternoon, I met him after school with a trunk full of water, food, and cleaning supplies (bought with coupons of course!). It took three of us four trips to unload our car. A few days later, I asked him if his History room was overflowing with donations; we live in a very, very affluent area of Middle Tennessee and we expected there to be a generous response. Well, he wasn’t very happy to tell me that he was the only one from his class and one of just a few from all that teacher’s students to give. He then said something that I will never forget…”These kids have it all and should be happy to give even a single bottle of water from the vending machine. Hopefully, they never have to experience what it is like to go without. When it happens to you, you never forget.” Later that summer, he and I went with our church to Rainesville, Alabama to help with recovery. He has never worked so hard in all his life – clearing fallen trees and other debris (hard work); but he was happy to do it, and I was glad to share that time with him.

    Sorry for being so long winded…but you see, they learn more than you give them credit for…just watch and observe how they interact with others and I’m sure all your worries will melt away. They’ll surprise you.

  11. Theresa Mahlik says:

    This is coming from a woman who nagged, bribed, begged, hollered and showed newspaper articles to her children. (You know, pre-YouTube) The one thing I’ve learned in 21 years of parenting, kids are selfish. It’s their nature and it’s our job to make them see the wider world and their place in it. I never thought they’d get it. Well let me tell you, they did. Calvin (21) works 2 jobs (one full time) while being a full-time student. He’s voluteered and goes to church. Alex (20) works when he’s home on breaks and helps coach his team mates at college. It took a while, but they’ve both gotten the lessons we’ve tried to teach. Are they perfect? No. But none of us are. Your kids get it. Sometimes though, that selfish nature shows up. I bet in 10 years, you’ll be pretty proud of just how much they “get” it., just like me. Good luck, and keep it up!

    As an aside, keep showing YouTube videos and news clips, they really do work! I showed my kids (and made them read) every news article about the dangers of drunk driving and texting. (I was crazy, hardcore that they NOT do either. EVER.) They’ve never had a ticket.

    • Thank you so much for your encouragement Theresa! It is good to know there’s hope ~ and the whole texting and driving thing has me absolutely scared beyond belief. I appreciate so much the view from the other side… hopefully we’ll survive! 🙂

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