A Gift For Children Who Feel Entitled To Everything

When my sister told my four-year-old twins that she and her husband (Uncle John) were headed to China for two weeks, one of my daughters asked immediately, “Are there presents in China?”

On the surface, my daughter’s question is amusing, but it reveals a materialistic attitude and sense of entitlement that their father and I are actively trying to address.  At the moment, we have a three pronged approach: (1) modeling charitable behavior for our children; (2) encouraging them to engage in charitable behavior, such as donating a portion of their allowance to a cause of their choice; and (3) reading books that reinforce the altruistic message we hope they will learn sooner rather than later.

Yesterday, in preparation for my sister and brother-in-law’s return from China, I gave my daughters The Gift of Nothing (2005), written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell.  The crisp, somewhat sparse cartoon illustrations complement the lovely message of the book: the greatest gifts of all are not things, but rather friendship and sharing experiences with the people we love.  The story features a cat named Mooch who wonders what gift to give his friend Earl, a pup who already has everything.  Mooch’s quest to find the perfect gift for his friend is heartwarming and amusing with sophisticated humor that made this book much more enjoyable for me to read to my children than most of the other books on their shelf.

All three of my children, including my 17-month old, sat in rapt attention for the duration of the book.  When we finished it, I asked, “Now, what is the greatest gift of all?  What is the best gift you could ever give a friend?”

One of my four-year-olds replied, “A toy.” Ugh.

My other four-year-old said, “A card.”  Closer.

To which the first twin added, “Aunty Mebs is giving us panda toys from China.”

Oh well.  The lesson is lost on them for now, but they will get it eventually!

Indeed, my generous sister did bring them each a stuffed panda toy. She also shared with us her experiences in China through the 2,000+ pictures she took.  With her permission, I am sharing a small fraction of them with you.  Enjoy!

Entrance to Forbidden City, Beijing

Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Summer Palace, Beijing

Alley in Hutong, Beijing

Beverage Advertisement on Wangfujing Street (or “Cheers!! We Found Coke Zero!!”), Beijing

Peacock in Tree, Hangzhou (for the bird lovers out there!)

Koi, Hangzhou

Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an

Shanghai Skyline


  1. One of the best tools in my toolbox is discussing the meaning and subtext of children’s books with my kids. There are so many lessons of this sort included in even the most plot-driven stories… lessons about morality, courage, compassion, self-sacrifice, and humility. This is the reason I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series aloud to my children three times. They love it, and we talk about it a lot. Growing up… I read The Good Earth by Pearl Buck so many times. That particular saga really spoke to me and when I read it again, as an adult, I absorbed even more.

    Thank heavens for quality literature…

    1. That’s so funny! It’s nice to have generous aunts. I think my kids will get the message, too. In the meantime, I’m having a good time reading this story to them and encouraging other charitable actions. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Love the pics of China – beautiful! The terracotta warriors are breathtaking – I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to see them in real life. Your sister is so lucky!

    I think parents have an uphill battle in trying to teach kids the value of charity and giving in our materialistic culture. Haven’t figured out how I’m going to approach that – good thing mine is just a wee baby, since I need plenty of time to come up with a good strategy. I do think that it’s important to reinforce messages over and over, since kids don’t tend to grasp concepts like charity on the first (or fiftieth) try. Just the fact that you’re reading books with them and talking about the importance of giving is certainly helping to get the message through to them, even if they don’t seem to be absorbing it as fully as you’d like. They’re hearing you – don’t give up!

    1. I’m glad you like my sister’s the pictures! It was hard to choose which ones to post out of all the wonderful shots she took. Her husband kept telling her to put the camera away! It has been tough to teach my children about generosity and privilege. What’s funny is that one of my twins (the more empathetic one) seems to get the message better than the other, but I’m sure they will both “get it” eventually. I am so glad to have found McDonnell’s book–it’s really wonderful.

  3. Your sister is a wonderfully talented photographer. She has a real gift for composition. Please thank her for me – in particular for the shot of the koi in Hangzhou. If it was taken where I think it was taken she did a wonderful job of framing that shot.

    I lived in Hangzhou for 7 years, but moved to a smaller town a few hours away last year. We don’t make it back as often as I’d like, and I miss it terribly. I hope your sister made it out to LongJing while she was in Hangzhou. The tea fields in the early morning make for some of the best views I’ve ever seen. If she did, make sure you see those pictures, they’ll be a real treat.

    Somewhat ironically, if you want spoiled, materialistic kids you would be best advised to look in China. There’s a whole lot of new money here, and the culture has always rewarded under the table and back room dealings over actual merit. The end result is a new generation of Chinese people with an enormous sense of entitlement, no skills, and a seemingly unlimited bankroll. I know because I teach English to many of them.

    Unfortunately, the bankroll isn’t unlimited and eventually their spending habits and lack of ability will catch up with them. Who I really feel sorry for is their children because most of them will likely end up with a disproportionately hard row to hoe.

    Sorry, I seem to have written a novella in your comments section.

    1. I also love the picture of the koi in Hangzhou! It was hard to choose which of her pictures to post because she has so many good ones. I will ask her if she visited LongJing. I can imagine how beautiful the tea fields must be (my family is Sri Lankan, and I’ve always thought the tea fields there are beautiful). Your comments on materialism in China are very interesting. It seems to be a problem all over.

    2. In addition to my earlier response, I wanted to add that my sister mentioned that some of her tour guides commented about the entitled behavior of children, saying that the one-child policy has created an environment where children are more likely to be spoiled and are less likely to learn sharing at a young age. This type of behavior is not limited to China, though.

  4. My kids grew up in quite an affluent situation, but they are unspoiled. I’m not sure how it happened beyond the fact that both their mother and father value hard work. Also, well, at the risk of being obvious: I really believe that books open the eyes of children. They “know” so much more about the world. Books are enlightening. They change our point of view.

  5. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at a store and heard a kid screaming at his mother for something… and watched her cave. What happened to the parent’s ability to say “No” in a firm voice? Is it a lost art or something? ‘Cause I gotta say, I always want to smack that kid for being such a demanding, greedy little shit, but obviously, he’s learned this behavior gets him stuff, so he keeps doing it. The parent has taught him well.

    1. Yeah, kids are more likely to behave that way if it works! Still, I can sympathize with the parents to some extent. It’s hard to be in public with children mid-meltdown.

  6. The materalistic thing seems to be worse and worse every generation :). I’m sure we will soon realize what really matters though!

    1. I’m hoping my children will soon realize what really matters! Truthfully, they are very sweet children already. I just wish she didn’t prize toys and other material objects quite as much as they do. Thanks for stopping by!

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