The holidays can be a time of overindulgence, even when it comes to gift giving. Though none of us want our kids to “act spoiled,” we often can’t help spoiling them. To foster gratitude during the holidays, try putting the following suggestions in place and then keep it going all year long.
Take advantage of opportunities to tell your kids about people who are less fortunate than them. Do this in a natural, conversational way as opposed to a lecture. For example, a friend of mine sent out a call for help. She teaches in the Cleveland Public Schools and has identified a few students who she would like to support during the holidays. She sent out their Christmas lists and has asked her friends to donate to the cause. When I received the e-mail, I said out loud, “oh, isn’t that nice?” My nosey kids wanted to know what I was talking about so I read her e-mail to them. This started a conversation with one of my kids asking, “why doesn’t Santa just bring them presents?”
I chose to answer by explaining that Santa gets help from parents and some parents can’t afford to help Santa with presents, so we try to help them. We then talked about how happy they feel when they open a present they’ve really been wanting and we guessed how others feel, too. Then I asked them to imagine how good it would feel to be part of the reason why someone feels that good. We also had an opportunity to talk about some of the items those students most wish for – basic things like gloves and a hat – my kids were able to point out that they don’t write those kinds of things on their lists because they already have those things. We could then talk about being grateful for things we take for granted. Kids love personal details – any time you can tell them about a time you’ve felt grateful or tell them stories you can tie your own experiences to, they will be interested.
Show your children when you are grateful – for gifts, for help, for compliments, for children being cooperative, for time together. Say it with a simple, “thank you!” Or, turn off your phone and play a game with your kids. Start a practice of telling each other something you are grateful for everyday.
Find an activity to do together – baking, writing cards or drawing pictures, or shovel snow for a neighbor. You can spend time with your kids and provide them with an opportunity to give joy. You can show that gifts don’t always have to be material. Time together and providing an act of service, like shoveling snow, can be gifts as well.
Donate and Volunteer
Offer your kids an opportunity to donate some of their gently used toys and clothes to families in need. Find organizations to volunteer for, keeping in mind your children’s strengths and interests. A first grader in my children’s school spent many nights calling family friends asking them to drop off food and going door to door in his neighborhood asking for canned food to donate to a food drive. Older kids may be able to volunteer serving meals to families in need. Kids who love to write and draw might be encouraged to send letters to people in nursing homes or soldiers away from home.
As much as your kids will tolerate, talk about how giving to others makes them feel. As they experience giving to others and as they begin to recognize what they have in comparison to many others, they will start to develop deeper levels of gratitude for all they have.