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Teaching Children to Be Grateful

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

The holidays are all about the spirit of the season. How do I teach my children to be grateful every day of the year?

Holiday Spirit

Every year the advertisements for the Christmas holidays start earlier and earlier (Halloween?!). Holy Hannah, it can be hard to stay in the true spirit of the season with all of this STUFF swirling around everywhere we look. We usually do, though, because the magic in the air is a subtle prompt constantly bringing us back. Lights, trees, festive music, and once-a-year baked goods with family and friends all bring us back to the “true spirit”. By which I mean, of course, love for one another and gratitude for all we have…

Blah blah blah. You know all that. So I’m going to skip ahead to AFTER the holidays.

The magic fades as the trees come down and school starts again. We go back to the mundane of every day life. Here’s when the spirit of the holidays is really tested. Do we keep our love and gratitude flowing even in the absence of Hannukah candles and a man in a red suit? Because the truth is, this annual event is only meant to be a reminder — a reminder that treating others with love and kindness is the very core of who we are as humans. A reminder that the regular practice of gratitude is a habit that not only makes others feel appreciated, but actually enriches our lives too.

The Art of Giving Thanks

So how do we keep the flow going and further make sure the children in our lives grow into young people with these values as part of their moral fiber? Well, as in all things with children, we must model it. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Thank You Notes. When’s the last time you received a handwritten thank you note in the mail? Emails and texts are nice, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a handwritten note to let you know your gift (and you) was appreciated. Take an afternoon with your child and make writing thank you notes an event. First choose a set of notecards, and then write your thank you‘s together. Doing this with your child will reinforce the importance of the habit without you having to say a word. The fact you’re taking the time to do it says it all. A couple of added bonuses are the quality time that you’ll enjoy together, plus you’re reinforcing your child’s writing skills as well as their fine motor skills simply by putting pen to paper!

  2. Clean Out and Donate. In with the new and out with the old. Assuming your child has just received many gifts over the holidays, you can give the new items more value by ensuring they replace older toys that your child doesn’t really play with anymore. Not only are they more likely to use the new toys without so many other options lying around, but you get a bit of decluttering too. The next step is giving back. Is there a local shelter or an orphanage you can donate the old items to? Help your child appreciate all they have, as well as the gift of giving, by cleaning the old items and preparing them nicely to be given away. If possible, take them with you to make the donation!

  3. Family Service. Do you belong to a church? Or perhaps you have a shelter nearby. In cold climates, post holidays mean dreary, cold weather. For the homeless, that can mean months of focusing on basic survival. Many local organizations host soup kitchens that offer both a warm meal and a warm place for those without. And they always need volunteers! Depending on your child’s age, look into the options that would be most appropriate for you all to go together and volunteer one evening.

With Your Child: Journaling

Before the gift giving begins, talk about what you each hope you will receive as a gift, and why. What happens if you don't receive it? Write about it.

Then, once the gift giving has come and gone, take a look at what you wrote prior to the holidays. Consider what gift you received that you appreciate the most. Is it what you hoped you would get? Or something different?

This could be a discussion topic over a family dinner where everyone takes a turn identifying what they like best and why. Or, make it a journal activity. Draw a picture of the gift you like best, and then write a little story about how you will use it and why it’s so meaningful to you. Share it with the whole family!

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