Gratitude is a wonderful characteristic for a child to have. And sadly, many children these days don’t exhibit it well. But like most other emotions, gratitude must be taught. Here’s a quick list of suggestions for helping your child learn thankfulness this holiday season.
I’m all about teaching thankfulness, appreciation, and other complex feelings. But it’s a little hard to describe those things in depth to a toddler or preschooler. I also don’t believe that you should just “wait until they’re older” on this type of thing.
The big secret is really no secret at all: kids are living breathing sponges.
Whatever vocabulary and behavior they witness, is what they will model.
But I know, I know, that sounds like a copout. I’m sure you didn’t plan to read my article only to be told “do as I do.” So don’t worry, I have specific suggestions to teach thankfulness.
My kids have tons of toys. It’s ridiculous. And even though we normally buy used, and we rotate toy bins, there’s always an excess. We make a point to go through toys and donate some a few times a year.
I deliberately have my son help out in this process. I don’t want to feel like I’m getting rid of his stuff behind his back, and I want to have a dialogue with him about where these things are going, and why. I find that he gets really interested in helping out, and I love hearing him say things like “maybe a little boy would like this truck!” (Plus, with a birthday in June and Christmas in December, let’s be real: he’s going to get more stuff anyway.)
I know that this can be difficult (read: impossible) with little children, but if you can’t actually volunteer for anything, then have discussions about volunteers you see in your community. This can happen at church, outside the grocery store, or at school. Teach your child that everyone has some way they can give back.
One of the big things I talk to my kids is about is that we can all of us do something for society and for our earth. If you’ve got money, give. If you’ve got time, volunteer. If you’ve got blood, donate. If you are literate, read to someone.
We can all sacrifice a little for the greater good.
The Concept of Santa
We do celebrate Christmas in our house, and I’m totally fine with my kids believing in Santa. I think it’s a magical part of the holidays and a metaphor for faith in general (we believe even though we do not see).
However, I don’t like it when people say “Oh you’d better do this or else Santa won’t give you presents/visit on Christmas/etc.” We should teach kids to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because some old dude in a red suit is watching your every move. That creeps me out a little bit.
And if my kids are going to be kind, empathetic, and grateful, they need to do it because of their morals. Those actions should be driven from within. Not because “if I’m kind, then I get something out of it like a new toy.”
Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.
It is never right to do wrong, and it is never wrong to do right.
Appreciate the Simple Things
My husband and I come from humble beginnings. Our kids will too. And we never want to take anything for granted. We can not have a lot, and still have enough.
We try to model this by not comparing ourselves to others (which just encourages jealousy, anyway); instead, we make time to be thankful for the little things.
My son has watched his father as we sit down to dinner, and now copies what my husband does. He asks who made dinner and then looks them in the eye to say “thank you” for the meal.
We’ve recently begun discussions of money, too – what it is, why we need it, and what we use it for. It’s really opened my son’s eyes to what’s going on in his world, and why Daddy and I make some of the decisions that we do.
I am really proud to say that my son is learning to appreciate the simple things in life.
Adopt An Angel
I did already mention donating and volunteering, but around the holidays I like to specifically mention the angel tree. This is the “tree” set up at your mall or church which has paper ornaments of children or families in need. You learn some basic facts about the person/people, like their age and gender and clothes size. But it also really helps personify the process of donating and helping others.
When we donate clothes and toys, for example, we just put a box out on the porch to be picked up. It’s a generous act but it doesn’t really connect you to another human being.
Having discussions about an “angel” in need really makes the person on the other end seem real. We pick a child around the same age as my son, and explain to him that we are going to be like Santa for this little boy or girl. He gets really involved, picking out toys and clothes for them with care. I know it helps him see that “a person is a person, no matter how small”… or no matter their current situation.
And Remember, Thankfulness Last All Year Long
The holidays are an ideal place to begin having these conversations with your family! However, like everything else, repetition is key.
Think of some traditions or habits you as a family can do throughout the year to better your community and to say “thank you for all you do!”, like
- volunteering at an animal shelter or with children at church or in the hospital
- visit people in a nursing or retirement home to play bingo or read books
- perform random acts of kindness in the neighborhood
- write letters to soldiers
- deliver cookies to police, fire fighters, EMTs, and other service workers
- leave a small gift card with a note in the mailbox for your mailman
- run out to give your garbagemen a picture of a garbage truck (my son’s favorite!)
Tell me your favorite ways to encourage and teach gratitude to your kids!