Q: Lately my kids, 9 and 5, seem terribly ungrateful. Every time we do something fun there is a meltdown when it ends. I understand that it's disappointing when a good time is over but the lack of appreciation coupled with the hysterics when leaving drives me crazy. Today I had a fun surprise planned. I picked them up from their friends pool, pizza, movie sleep over) and I was greeted with pouty kids. I cancelled our plans. Why do they deserve a treat? Am I being too harsh? What works?
A: You cannot force anyone to feel grateful. And expecting children who are cranky, overexcited, and tired to be polite and mannerly is probably not realistic. Typically a 5-year-old (and many 9-year-olds) will fall apart with a meltdown at one point during an exciting day. Transitions such as endings and special occasions are unfortunately just the kinds of moments where children tend to fall apart.
Smoothing over pouts and moving on to the next thing as harmoniously as possible is probably your best bet. Of course, a child who is throwing himself on the ground shrieking or hitting you may need more time and space to calm down while you explain, "No, no--we don't hit." Naturally, you must not let a child hit you. But the ambition to control pouts through discipline is likely to backfire--the child doesn't learn anything about feeling grateful, he just concludes that Mom is unpredictable and in a really lousy mood today! Children grow to be grateful very slowly and indirectly, through participating in intimate love relationships at home and modeling the gratefulness that they see there.