Did you notice that Thomas Lickona recently adapted a portion of his book “How to Raise Kind Kids” into the online “Time Magazine” article “How to Raise Grateful Kids in An Era of Thankless People”?
My own son Gideon is a gentle, cheerful, kindhearted lad, but I set aside the time to read the essay because I realize he is still a work in progress.
Even though Gideon has mostly outgrown the “This is the worst day of my life” tantrums, he is still prone to swiping my French fries, neglecting “thank you” notes, delivering perfunctory prayers (“Thank you for our food and our beds. Amen”), procrastinating about his burdensome chores (which require half a hand of fingers to count) and whining about clothes-shopping trips that last longer than unlacing the left shoe.
Among the suggestions in Lickona’s essay was to take “the no-complaints challenge.” In this exercise, everyone in the family must agree to go 24 hours without complaining about ANYTHING.
Raising the issue of going COLD TURKEY on negative vibes can stir up a storm of discord all by itself. (“Did someone say something about ‘cold turkey’? Is the microwave busted again? Didn’t that thing come from the Pilrgrims’ yard sale? The neighbors have a new kitchen and a new car and probably Paula Deen and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to manage those necessities for them...”)
Yes, if you’re going to PLUNGE into smiley faces and fortitude instead of slowly weaning your family from self-centered habits, you need to find ways to lessen the shock. You might want to set the mood by streaming something like “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “Man, they said we better accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch onto the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.”
Your little cherubs will probably gush an enthusiastic pronouncement such as, “I’m so GLAD that Bobby McFerrin and Johnny Mercer aren’t here to get their feelings hurt when I crank up Black Sabbath to drown out their music!”
Break out all those uplifting posters, such as “If you can’t say something nice about suppertime telemarketing calls, the Washington, D.C. swamp, Fluffy’s hairballs and the creepy neighbor boy with the binoculars, don’t say anything at all.”
Of course, a little common sense is required if a family is to go all-positive. Or when the kids laugh about the 24-hour “ordeal” afterwards, they’ll say something like, “Ha! Ha! I wanted to complain about that suspicious-looking mosquito crawling up your arm, but I just zipped my lip and went to my happy place.”
Classmates and teachers will notice a changed attitude in youngsters who have learned to eliminate their egocentric bellyaching. (“What do you want to be, Johnny—the class president or the captain of the football team?” “Nah, I wanna be a Stepford Wife.”)
I just hope that complaint-free days can be the beginning of a lifetime of putting things into perspective. If, instead, they become like Lent, followed by an outpouring of pent-up desire, things could get nasty.
“Why does the Sun have to come up so early? Why does it have to be 93 million miles away? Why does it have to possess a mass 330,000 times that of Earth? Why does it have be a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process???”