In just over a week, our children will be waking up wide-eyed to see presents in the double digits waiting for them under the Christmas tree.
Every year I promise not to overdo it and then, with presents from relatives, grandparents, friends… and throw in Santa and ourselves, we end up with way more than we planned.
We even started early this year, asking each of our girls to choose one thing they’d really like from Santa. While watching their eyes glaze over while they pawed through the Argos catalogue (don’t ask me how they got this!) circling everything they possibly could, OH and I both realised we had work to do to make sure our kids understood the true spirit of Christmas.
It’s not just this time of year either, it seems like every time we go into a shop, my kids seem to want everything they lay their eyes on. Like they’ve never seen these things before or because they think they are absolutely entitled to getting at least one treat bought for them every single time we go out.
And if they get the toy, the must-have thing of the year- the L.O.L doll, the Match Attax cards, the Shopkins or the latest Transformer… how long do they really play with it? How did we get to this point? I have often asked myself.
Last week, my oldest daughter admitted L.O.L dolls are actually a bit boring. But with the maturity of someone who understands, she admitted the adverts and Youtube videos make it look so much more exciting. Admittedly, it hasn’t changed her desperation to get the latest series…
Why is teaching our children gratitude beyond saying “thank you” so important?
I know it makes me feel good when my child thanks another adult or child when they are given something. And that’s because it shows that our child recognises the value in that something, or the effort that person made to give it to them. Obviously, it can just be automatic sometimes, but at other times, when it’s genuine and self-initiated, it feels good to hear it.
If our children recognise the value of something, it makes them feel good and it makes them appreciate that person or something, sometimes even motivating them to do the same for someone else in the future. It’s a social emotion but one that I think all of us recognise can make the world a better place.
For adults, studies have shown that being and feeling grateful has physical, psychological, and social benefits, including: lowering blood pressure, improving immune function, increasing happiness and well-being, and decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation. So if we want our children to grow up to be happy, content and well-rounded individuals, helping them appreciate what they have is a big part of that.
What are the benefits of gratitude for children?
As early as 2 years old, children are learning that there are good things and bad things. They start to understand that the world goes beyond just their immediate family and they can start to understand how interconnected we all are, sustained by others and relationships.
When we care for our children, and show them generosity in different ways, children feel better. Helping them appreciate these acts of kindness can help strengthen relationships and help them to model these behaviours with others. Developing stronger relationships can amount to increased resilience over time. And when a child is resilient, he or she is better able to have a happier, more satisfied, connected life—and a higher sense of purpose.
So How do we raise grateful kids in an entitled world?
My youngest is 3 years old, and it can be a hard concept to grasp- having empathy for those around you, being grateful of what you have and being able to show kindness and appreciation to other people. But we have to start somewhere. And in fact, like most things, it’s probably better to teach them early rather than later.
This year, we decided to be very intentional about it. Here are 10 things you can start doing.
1) This Christmas or birthday, resist the urge to buy them that one last gift.
I know it’s hard. It was for me. I think we’re accustomed or brainwashed into thinking that if we get them that one last thing, they will be happy. They will, for about 5 minutes.
First thing is to remove half the gifts under the tree. Birthdays will come up, 28 day return policies… whatever. It’s just important that your children appreciate every gift they receive, or at least most and not open them, toss each aside and look for the next one. Reducing the number is one step towards appreciation.
2) Say no to your kids.
They have to hear it because it makes the ‘yes’ more special and they will appreciate whatever it is that much more. In this day an age, we’re taught not to say ‘no’ but to say ‘perhaps you can have it later, or “would you like this instead?” I believe a good old-fashioned, ‘no, you cannot have that’ didn’t hurt anybody. Plus, it means that your children are taught the lesson that they can’t have everything they want. It’s a valuable lesson in life that will set them up for later, hard as it is.
3) Give your kids jobs or chores to do.
Not simple ones but ones that involve hard work. So they begin to appreciate that many things take hard work. I remember one time when my oldest asked me for something and I said, I don’t have any cash on me. She said, “simple, just go to that machine in the wall and get some”. I knew then that I needed to explain something to her. She thought that things just happen, that her bedroom was somehow clean because she woke up that way. No, showing her how to clean her room, put away her toys and make her bed gave my oldest a sense of pride in getting it right. It meant she became a stickler for kids going in her room and messing things up but at least she got the message that it takes hard work to have what you have.
4) It also means sacrificing.
Teach your children that having new things or doing certain things takes sacrifice. Teach them the value of money. Explain to them that if you go to the cinema tomorrow, they won’t be able to also go to softplay. Make them part of that decision so they learn to appreciate what they were able to do and learn that it took a sacrifice of something else they enjoy.
5) When the children get older, you can teach them to give things away, ask them to go through all of their things and choose items or toys that they no longer want. If they can sell these for cash, use the money to serve others, and let them choose how they want to use the cash.
I read about one Mum who had a do-good day every month. Each month, her children would do extra chores for money such as mowing the lawn, washing the car, picking up garbage from their local park and they would use this money to donate to a local charity. Her kids got so used to serving others and sharing, they started asking for charity donations in lieu of birthday gifts! How amazing is that? They were so thankful for what they already had, they wanted to give it all back. Let me tell you those kids felt so good about what they were doing and it really made them into confident kids.
6) Being intentional can mean building in regular family rituals that teach the value of gratitude.
One of these rituals can include an active gratitude practice. Ask each child to bring to mind a person (parent, teacher, coach, etc.) who has been kind to them, but whom they haven’t had the opportunity to thank. Guide them to select a person they can meet face-to-face, then make a plan to deliver a thank-you letter to that person. Make the activity fun and interesting. Ask children how they might want to add to the family gratitude ritual. Novelty is essential for children to remain involved and excited, so try to change things up from time to time.
Choose a moment or moments everyday to reflect as a family about what you are grateful for. We started saying grace at every meal during the summer but somehow it got lost in the hubbub of our lives. But I’d like to reintroduce that idea or at least the idea of thanking God, (the creator, your own spiritual equivalent) for three things we are grateful for each day. We started doing this at night but this can be done at anytime… supper time, bedtime, even on the way home from school. Carving up time within each day to stop and appreciate can have such a big impact- letting children reflect on their own lives and giving thanks for all that they have.
8) Develop an awareness about how we are all interconnected.
Ask each other who do you think made your food, where did it come from , who grew your food, made your clothes, your computer, your tele etc. Play a game and let them understand who and what was involved in bringing that object to you. Reflecting on all the people who helped make that object come alive can help children appreciate and understand their place in the world and how we are all interconnected.
9) Writing thank you cards in advance.
No doubt after Christmas, it will seem like a chore. But before all the excitement is over and while they’re still in anticipation mode, it would be great to capture that energy to thank those who sent them presents, those who invited us for Christmas lunch or those we’d like to remember this holiday. I think it also helps prepare their minds to think about the giver rather than it being one big unwrap-fest in under 3 minutes.
10) Setting expectations.
Set reasonable expectations when it comes to your children showing gratitude and thankfulness. I read about one Mum whose kids used to complain at dinner, “Chicken again? Why don’t we ever eat anything good?” Who hasn’t heard that said at least once?
The parents sat down with their children and had a heart-to-heart, making it clear that this behaviour was no longer ok. They set an expectation that no matter what they eat, each member of the family will thank the chef for the meal. Since then, thank-yous were sincerely given, even from the two year old, because they set that expectation with their kids.
I know I said 10 but I couldn’t leave this one out. It’s perhaps the most important…
11) Finally, model the behaviour you want your children to possess.
What random acts of kindness do you do in your everyday? I can’t say I’m the best at volunteering and going out of my way for strangers or people in need. So last year, we decided we’d do some baking and take it around to our neighbours. The girls loved the idea of baking for a day and were so into it. Baking three different types of Christmas cookies and truffles in one day was a bit stressful but after closing my eyes to the mess, I did eventually enjoy it. We decorated each one and put them in little boxes ready to take around to friends and neighbours. Afterwards, they asked, ‘why are we giving them away Mama? Can’t we eat them?’ But once they got it, they were all in. They couldn’t knock on enough doors! We were even discouraging them from knocking too many times or avoiding certain doors. For them, it was all or nothing. To our surprise, two neighbours dropped by our flat that very night and gave us champagne and cards in return! A great lesson for them to learn ‘the more you give, the more you receive’. Even I was inspired afterwards.
Do you set an example and show appreciation in everything you do?
- Do your kids hear you thank others for the help you receive?
- Do you express a heartfelt thank you for the unexpected hug that lit up your morning?
- Or for them putting their laundry away without being asked?
What are your top tips for raising grateful children?
Gratitude requires discipline and setting an intention. It is a choice. It’s easy for anyone to take for granted the gift of life and the gifts we individually have.
I think we nailed it. We’ll see next week when the madness begins.