Teach Your Children Gratitude

By Tracey Dowdy

The holidays bring out the best and the worst in people, don’t they? ‘Tis the season for giving, but if we aren’t careful, it’s also the season for crowds, spending beyond our budget, and unrealistic expectations. 

Managing our own expectations is important, but it’s also essential we manage the expectations of our children. These tips can help you teach your children gratitude not only at the holidays but all year round. 

Start by leading by example. It’s something of a cliche, but more is caught than taught when it comes to parenting. If you want to raise grateful children, show gratitude yourself. Studies show that kids use courtesy words only about twenty percent as much as they hear them, so it’s important they hear it often, especially from you. While you’re at it, help them understand that saying thank you for a gift they may not like isn’t lying. Gratitude isn’t only about the present; it’s being grateful that they were given anything at all and appreciating that someone else spent their time and effort to give them a gift.

Talk about feelings. Everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated for who they are and what they do. Tell your children to think about how they feel when someone thanks them and remind them that they’re helping the other person experience those same feelings of happiness when they show gratitude. Help them understand that the giver is more important than the gift. 

Say more than just “Thank you.” The most meaningful thank you’s have three parts: the actual thank you; speaking the other person’s name; naming the gift, and saying something nice about it. For example, “Thank you for the Legos, Uncle Nikko. I love building things,” or “Thank you for the baby doll, Auntie Sarah. I love her pretty curls that look just like mine,” or even, “Thank you for thinking of me, Grandma. I can always use more socks.” 

Don’t feel pressured to buy everything on their list. Children have little or no concept of money, and if they still believe presents come from Santa, their expectations can run wild. Paradoxically, the more you give, the more they’ll want. Let them create their lists, then talk about what items are most important.  Pick and choose, staying within your budget. Going over budget now may make for an exciting Christmas morning, but it also makes for a miserable January when those credit card payments are due. 

Do unto others. If you really want to help them understand the importance of gratitude, find a way to serve your community. There are countless organizations like Operation Christmas SpiritSalvation Army Angel TreeMake-A-Wish Foundation, and Toys for Tots that do charitable work all year but have special initiatives at Christmas. Food pantries, homeless shelters, animal shelters, and other local communities also have ways you can help families in need around the holidays. Have your children look through the options that are meaningful to them, and donate time, finances, or pantry staples – whatever the need. Raising community-minded adults begins by instilling compassion in your children. The holidays are a perfect time to reinforce that compassion. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.