Thursday, October 20, 2011

How do you teach children empathy AND gratefulness?

There was a day last week that was particularly rough.  I had a student steal an opened carton of milk out of the cafeteria in the pocket.  The milk spilled, their pants were then wet and other children ratted the child out.  The teacher later confided in me that the child took it because they don't have any food at home.

It broke my heart.

Sadly, this isn't the only child like this at my school and we are not the only school like this in our district.  And I think it's pretty safe to say that there are similar cases in almost every public school in America.

That night, I went home and found a complete and total disaster in the girls' bathroom.  Squalor.  Complete and total squalor.  I can't even tell you all the gory details because I am (still) so disgusted by it.  I was furious with them.  I yelled.  And perhaps screamed a bit.  I sent them to bed for the night...without dinner.

I went downstairs and ate a really wonderful, home cooked meal (with enough for left overs) with Chris and Quinn.  I had a tall glass of milk with dinner.  And I couldn't help but think back to the child in my library earlier that day.  I am quite sure that they would be grateful for all that we had to offer at our house...in a way that my children are not.

Chris and I talked about this issue during dinner.  We know that the girls care about others.  They make the choice to help others through missions and when presented with an opportunity to help, they jump at it.  We talk as a family about why we donate clothing, why we donate food, why we volunteer in our community.

I know that if they knew about the child at school they would probably start smuggling food to them.  They are empathetic children.  They want to help and do the right thing.  They hurt for others.

But they don't know how to be grateful for what they have.  They just don't seem to grasp that concept.

My mom and I talked a lot about this...I was grateful as a child because we didn't have a whole lot.  We moved a lot.  My parents were divorced.  There were times when I wanted to do things and my mom had to tell me no because we couldn't afford it.  There was a summer when we lived off of hot dogs, creamet salad and sun tea.

Is there a way to learn/teach gratefulness without having hardships in life?

**ps - as for the dinner, I caved and sent Chris up with plates for both of them. 

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3 comments:

Emily said...

We have the same issue. As soon as you figure it out, will you let me know, please?

Michele said...

Gosh, I have no advice, and I worry about the same thing with my boys. My husband and I have so much more than we did growing up (and we're both teachers like you and Chris so I definitely don't feel like we are wealthy now by any means). I guess I'm trying to say that gratefulness comes from appreciating what you have and sometimes that is learned because you have to go without. Now, how does that translate to my children. I'm not really sure. You are at least acknowledging it's a concern. Just like Emily said, when you figure it out, please let me know!

molly said...

This so reminds me of one of my favorite Cosby show episodes. Cliff and Clair took all of Theo's belongings, including his bed, and put them up for sale, just like it was a garage sale. He had to buy back his bed and all of the things from his room. His room had been emptied out.
I know it seems like a big undertaking to teach what seems like a small lesson but it seems like it might carry lot of weight to make them have to purchase back the right to have some of those simple pleasures.
The great thing about the Cosby version was that it was a surprise. All of a sudden, his room was empty and he had to rebuild it.
Just a thought... a lot of work, but what a fun game to play. Needless to say, you have good kids and kudos that you are aware of these issues in the world.
Love you and miss you!! And the kids!!