Around the holidays, there is a lot going on. Kids generally get many gifts treats and attend fun events and activities. It can be overwhelming for us, let alone for them! At this time of year, it is especially important to teach gratitude to our little ones. There are many people around the world who do not have the toys, games, or even food that we have. Fostering a spirit of thankfulness in our children is planting the seed of kindness and compassion that will grow throughout their adulthood. Here are ten tips for teaching gratitude around the holidays!
1. Limit treats
It seems every event or activity, even every grocery store aisle, is packed with some kind of consumable treat. Candy, cake, pies, casseroles… Treats are everywhere we look. As a parent, I confess to struggling with wanting to let my kid have all the yummy things. But in truth, that’s not a healthy practice, and not just because it’s unhealthy. Allowing my daughter to have any treat she wants, even if it is a special occasion, will rob the treat of being just that – a treat! Limiting treats to one or two per event, or day, will help the treat to retain more value. It will be more special.
2. Role play thankfulness
Play is the language of young children. As discussed in my post on kids and their emotions, using role play to teach important lessons can be an invaluable tool as a parent. Role play your child giving you a present, and demonstrate a spirit of thankfulness in opening it. This will leave such an impression on your child! While this strategy is most effective in young children, older kids will pick up on your gratitude in every day life. So remember they’re watching (and learning)!
3. Don’t overwhelm
A couple weeks ago, we had four events in a single day, and I found myself running around like a mad woman trying to make it all work.
I don’t recommend this.
It’s okay to turn down things, even super fun things, because you don’t want to overwhelm your family. This goes for parents as well as kids! I’ve adopted the practice of not telling Genny about things until we are 100% for sure going to actually do it. An over-packed schedule, much like too many treats, can become trite. We want experiences to be special for our kids, but too many “special experiences” and they may begin to take them for granted. Beyond this, a child needs normalcy for healthy mental development. I’ve noticed in my three year old that when we’re too busy for the day-to-day, she begins to act up more than usual. There’s nothing wrong with staying home now and then, even around the holidays.
4. Write thank you cards
Let me first preface with I’m not the best at this. But I’m trying! Sending thank you cards isn’t just for the gift-giver, it’s also for the gift-receiver. Writing and sending thank you cards allows time to reflect on the gift and it’s giver and to articulate a thoughtful response. What better way to practice gratitude!
Every night before bed, we pray with Genny and ask her to think of one thing she’s thankful for. Granted, her reply might be “my big toe”, but it’s the exercise of introspection that we’re trying to encourage. In addition, thanking God is a habit, indeed a life skill. Thanking God in the every-day becomes a reminder that all we have is a gift from Him. There’s truly no better lesson I wish to teach my children.
6. Write it down
For Christmas this year, Genny’s getting a prayer journal from Val Marie Paper. These kids’ prayer journals have sections for each entry to list prayers in different categories, including “My Family”, “People Hurting”, and “Children of the World”. I am so excited to begin doing this prayer journal with Genny before bed each night to help her remember what she’s thankful for and to pray for others regularly.
7. Spend their own money
There are ample opportunities for gift-giving around this time of year, and giving kids their own money to spend on gifts not only helps in teaching gratitude around the holidays but it also teaches money management. You can never start them too young on understanding the value of a dollar. I’m considering starting an allowance system with Genny in the new year. For now, when we go out I will sometimes give her some money to spend herself. Applying this exercise to buying gifts will make the act of receiving gifts more meaningful.
8. Give their own gifts
Much like the last point, choosing gifts to give themselves and physically giving it to the receiver provides an opportunity for patience as well as anticipation of receiving thanks. Of course, for very young children there may need to be an additional role-playing step of “people don’t always say thank you” or else they might demand ample praise for giving a gift. But overall, this scenario imprints in a child’s mind that this feeling of excitement to give also deserves a spirit of thankfulness.
9. Clean up around the house
While this may seem unrelated to gift-giving, this is an area of life that is constant. Ask any parent and they will tell you there is ALWAYS something else to clean. Giving a child chores or having them regularly clean up (after themselves or others) is a responsible way to teach gratitude. You can even go the extra step, and, if you don’t already, coach your child in thanking others for doing things for them such as providing meals, clearing the table, helping them get dressed, etc. These routine actions may seem just that to even the parent, and if you’re like me you may forget to remind your kids to say “thank you”. In these moments, you need a “thank you” though! And teaching your kids to be thankful for the every day is arguably even more important than thankfulness during rare occasions.
Understanding that some people don’t have the things that we do can be hard for kids to understand. Adopting a sponsored child provides a fantastic opportunity to consider the specific needs of another person. We have three sponsored children: Nivia from Peru, Stani from the DOC, and Jamia from Bangladesh. Each of these children live in very different communities and have very different needs. World Vision provides us with regular reports on these kids’ communities, including living conditions, resources, job opportunities, and education. In turn, as the parent I can teach my kids about these communities and what we can provide for them. Translating this to their own worlds, we can find ways to help out in our own communities as well, such as visiting nursing homes, writing to the sick, shopping for shut-ins, volunteering at food banks or pregnancy assistance centers, hosting drives, and so much more!
This time of year is the season of giving, but it’s also the season of thankfulness. Have fun with teaching gratitude around the holidays – there are so many ways to make it meaningful to your child. Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to you all!
Share your tips for teaching gratitude around the holidays!
Love, Emily XOXO