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Lately, my 5 year old daughter keeps focusing on things she doesn't have (some game that her friend has or some doll that she saw on a commercial that she "needs") and although she has plenty of dolls and toys, she doesn't seem to have any appreciation for them.

Recently, we took her to a show and out to get ice cream and had a very nice day. At the end of the show, she wanted to get a doll from the show and we told her no (because it was quite expensive) and she lost it and got hysterical because "she really needed and wanted" that doll and liked it more than any of her existing dolls.

We try very hard to show and have her participate in charity and other activities and try to remind her that she is very lucky to have a home and food and toys, and there are many other people who aren't so lucky, but she still seems like she is missing an "appreciation gene" both in terms of being thankful for what she has and always focusing and getting hystical if she can't get something that she doesn't have.

I guess a bit of this is general human nature and general 5 year old human nature but I wanted to see if anyone had suggestion for how to improve or ways to focus on this?

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2 Answers

You recognize already that this is a developmental issue. It takes time, work, and maturity to develop. In addition, I think what you are describing is more than an appreciation issue. It can also be about

  • control. A five-year-old has very little control in her life - she doesn't get to choose how the money is spent, what time she goes to bed, what she eats, or whether or not the babysitter is coming. She may be trying to exert some control over her environment by making demands and trying to get you to capitulate.
  • measuring personal value. Even at her young age, she may have already learned that gifts are an expression of love. She may be demanding an expression of love.
  • competition. Even 5-year-olds can be aware of what the Joneses have.
  • a lack of understanding about finances. Things cost money, and that's a bit abstract at 5.
  • an inability to delay gratification. This one is not only developmental, it is also a disease of current culture!

Some suggestions:

  • Never buy her anything when she makes demands. Yea for you! Be firm and calm and a broken record at multiple requests, and change the subject.
  • Teach appreciation by demonstrating it often. Whenever I went anywhere with my kids, they not only heard me expressing gratitude for services to providers of service, but I would also talk to them about why I felt grateful: "Wasn't that nice of him to bring us extra napkins? He must have noticed how messy this pizza looked!"
  • Teach appreciation by appreciating your children's efforts: "Thank you for bringing over your bowl. That saved me a trip!"
  • Give your child areas of control. Whenever possible give her choices. "We are having cereal this morning. Would you like Chex or Cheerios? Big spoon or little spoon?" "Which should we do first, bath or brush teeth?"
  • Find ways to show her you love her that have nothing to do with material purchases. "I'm so lucky to be your Mum. Can I sit by you on the couch?"
  • Teach that we don't buy things just because others do. "Sally is lucky to have that doll, and you are lucky to have nice toys too. Every family tries to choose the best toys for their children, but we can't choose every one."
  • Teach finances. Consider starting her on an allowance. An allowance says to a child that you get a certain amount of money because you are a member of this family and you get to choose how we spend this amount of our money.
  • Teach delayed gratification by making her wait: "I know you are ready for dessert, but we are going to eat dessert together when the table is cleared." "Of course you can watch your video, but I need 10 minutes of quiet first. Thanks for helping me out!"

I'm sure you are already doing many of these things! It takes time. I will say that with my children, they learned very early to express gratitude to others outside the family, but sometimes they were slower to express it to us as their parents. This is what led us to understand it wasn't just an appreciation issue - children don't usually have control issues with strangers but they have them aplenty with Mum and Dad!

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What a wonderful and thorough answer! I would only add that often the kids with less than their neighbors go through this at about this age Nd again in adolescence, but ultimately the kids with parents that have this sort of approach. Take generally better care of what they do have and do appreciate it more. It just takes time And consistency. –  balanced mama Oct 29 '13 at 16:24
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Depending on your circumstances this may seem like a drastic solution, but this is what I recommend:

Take your family on holiday to India, or some other developing nation. Make an effort to go to places where you will see some real disadvantage, where she will see little girls with dusty dreadlocks, torn dresses and no shoes (and not much food).

Consider sponsoring a child or family from the area you visited and use this as a reminder. "Isn't that a nice dress, remember XX in India - she only has one dress, remember. Aren't we lucky!"

Anyway, I haven't actually tried this with a five year old, so take it with a grain of salt, but in my experience adults get a real perspective change seeing poverty first hand.

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we have done similar charity thing (not gone to india) but made her realize "Every girl can't afford a backpack for school" or "everyone doesn't can't afford holiday presents". I am not sure how much its syncing in but maybe its tough at this age to appreciate this dynamic –  leora Oct 29 '13 at 10:17
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