Raising Grateful Children

‘Tis the season of gift-giving, and children always receive a major haul of gifts in middle- to upper-middle-class families in America. For parents wanting to instill a sense of social conscience in their children, it’s uncomfortable to watch their children receive more of everything they already have more-than-enough of. How to intervene without being the wet blanket? Try some of these approaches:


  • Give kids a realistic expectation of the “size” of this year’s holiday. If finances are shaky this year, tell your kids this (without awfulizing it) in advance of gift-giving days that large purchases are coming later, but not this holiday.


  • Remind children why we give gifts at this time of year. We give each other gifts to show appreciation for each other, not to satiate our desire to have more and more stuff. When kids receive small gifts, talk them through why the gift is special (it tooks hours for grandma to make, Julie picked out your favorite colors, etc.).


  • Remind your children why we thank people for gifts. We thank people for the time, effort and sacrifice they put into giving us a gift, whether we like the gift or not. Rehearse saying “thank you” after opening a gift with children under 5 who may forget in all of the excitement.


  • Have your kids make gifts for others. This helps children relate to people who give them gifts, and understand first hand how it feels to have someone appreciate their gift.


  • Give gifts to charities that support needy children, like Toys for Tots or Blue Santa. Have your child participate in the process, from finding what type of gift to purchase, to giving the gift to the collection staff. Discuss how a child will receive your gift, and it may be the only one.


  • Pay attention to your family’s shopping habit. If weekends are spent buying things that, let’s face it, you don’t really need, your child learns that getting things is an appropriate way to spend his leisure time. Make sure that weekends and vacations aren’t just spent in stores, but in parks, libraries, and other free-and-fun forms of recreation.


  • Once your holidays are over, work with your children to give some toys they no longer play with to charities like Goodwill Industries. Discuss with your kids what the charity does and how the toys will be used to make someone else’s life easier.


  • Don’t forget to read. Look for books to read together as a family that promote values that you cherish, like generosity and sharing.


  • Celebrate without shopping. Put on some holiday music and make ornaments or cookies together. Make indulgent hot chocolate and have a game night. Sip warm cider and watch favorite holiday movies together.


  • If you have more money than time this year, pay older children for extra chores or holiday-related tasks like wrapping gifts. Earning the money it takes to pay for things helps children appreciate the value of money, and helps you feel less stressed by extra holiday responsibilities.


  • Instead of an advent calendar that gives candy or a toy, have each member of the family share something they are grateful for each night at dinner up to your holiday celebration. This teaches children to reflect on what they have already.


  • Model gratitude in your own behavior. When children see you appreciating what you have already, they are more likely to do the same. Make sure they see you thanking people and appreciating activities that don’t involve shopping.


  • Teach the difference between “wants” (things that are nice to have) and “needs” (things I must have to survive). Then, teach kids to use these terms appropriately: when your son says he “needs” an Xbox One, inform him that’s a “want”, not a “need” (and watch your own language too!).


  • Cut down on marketing in your home. Keep only the catalogues you need, and keep them separate from books and magazines. If you have a DVR, use it to skip TV ads when your children are watching TV shows.


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