By Grace Aspinwall
In our family, I often refer to the holiday season as “the season of the gimme’s”. With the obvious holidays of thanksgiving and Christmas, we also have several winter birthdays among our kids, so it can feel like it is nothing but a non-stop stream of gifts, gift opening, and gift shopping. We have struggled as parents with how to dialogue about gratitude when our children are often overloaded with presents and are mentally making “wish lists” of even more material possessions. We certainly haven’t gotten everything right when it comes to phrasing these conversations, but here are a few ways that have helped encourage an attitude of gratitude to flourish in our home:
We teach our children phrases to use when opening gifts: It might sound very disingenuous to have phrases for children to use, but it also teaches good manners, and prevents gift meltdowns among young children who often have no filter. We do a short “run through” and role-play how we might react when we receive a gift we already own, or did not ask for, during the big holiday mornings. Some phrases that we like to use are, “Wow, thank you so much ________ (insert relative name), this is going to be really fun to use”, “Thank you so much for ________(insert gift name), I’m so glad you thought of me when you picked it out”. For especially little ones, be sure to emphasize that they can simply say “thank you” and address the relative or friend by name. We also ask that our children use eye contact when thanking the person, rather than mumbling it while they tear into another gift. For older kids, help them come up with their own wording.
Our children fund gifts for others with their money: Because our kids like to exchange gifts among themselves, we help them budget it out during the other months of the year. Our kids know their money can be saved, spent, or used for gifts, and we help them work independently to split it up responsibly. When it comes time to purchase gifts for each other at the holidays, yes, we help offset the cost some, but they are responsible to think ahead and contribute. They often surprise us by being even more excited about saving for, and choosing a gift for their sibling, than they are for their own gift list. (Practically, this looks like our girls contributing $5-10 of their own money for family Christmas presents, as they get a $1-$2 allowance a week at ages 5 and 3. You can work together with your children to find an age appropriate amount.)
Define attitude-enhancing vocabulary: We actually use the word “entitled” with our very young children, because we believe money, entitlement, and privilege are real, everyday topics in our world. We have asked our girls what they think the word means, and we have defined it for them as “believing you have a right to have everything you want”, because it is effective for their ages. We work at combating the attitude by limiting phrases such as: “But I deserve that!”, “That isn’t fair that So-and-So got this toy, and I didn’t”, and “I am the oldest, so I get to do ___”. When we hear these phrases in our home or at the girls’ school, we work hard to dialogue about why they are neither appropriate nor polite.
Adopt a family or include your children in charity work this season: Each year, we work hard at including our children in our giving. It is simple to write a check to an organization and feel like we have made a difference (and you probably have!), but it is instilling our personal, religious, and moral values to include our kids. A few ways we do this each holiday season is by first packing shoeboxes of gifts for less-fortunate children in other countries. We do this through Samaritan’s Purse, but there are other organizations that also do similar work. We take the girls shopping and let them choose gifts for impoverished kids (and we never, ever let them buy a toy for themselves during this trip!), and we talk about what it must be like to live in a country where that may be all you receive for Christmas, and how the boxes also hold necessities like toothpaste and washcloths. Samaritan’s Purse also has wonderful videos that talk about the shoeboxes, the countries they go to, and how they help the children they reach. Secondly, we adopt a family each christmas that may be struggling, and we anonymously meet their needs through buying groceries, or gifts and leaving them on their doorstep or at their home. In recent years, other ways we have included our kids is by caroling at nursing homes, writing letters to the elderly or shut-ins, and purchasing gifts for disabled adults at a group home. These tangible things help open children’s eyes to realities of life, and keep their focus on others.
We volunteer as a family: The National Service Organization has found that children who come from homes where one or more parents regularly volunteer are nearly TWICE as likely to volunteer themselves! By volunteering as a family, we are creating a legacy for our girls to continue the tradition, and that’s very important for us as parents. Wondering where to volunteer? There is a great list of national organizations HERE that is a great start, no matter where you live.
By making an effort to have daily conversations about gratitude, you can begin crafting a legacy of your own, that is filled with service and thankfulness.
*The organizations listed here are suggestions, and not to be taken as endorsements by inherQuests (powHers, LLC).