25 Tips to Help Foster Holiday Gratitude
The holiday season can be a frenzied time of shopping, presents, and sugary foods. It is important that we help our kids navigate the whirlwind of temptation and indulgence by helping them to learn about gratitude, and why we actually celebrate holidays. A strong sense of gratitude has been shown to be an important indicator in future success and happiness, so all the more reason to foster a strong sense of connection and thankfulness during the holidays and beyond.
Here are 25 tips to help your kids, no matter their ages, to learn about and demonstrate their gratitude:
- Limit TV Time before the holidays! You can’t control advertisers from marketing to your kids – but you can control how much exposure your kids have to those advertisements. Limiting how much time they spend in front of the TV will limit (not eliminate) the exposure they have to all of the latest and greatest ads intended to woo our kids.
- Christmas gratitude calendar. Christmas can seem like a relentlessly materialistic season, with decorations appearing in stores earlier every year and a barrage of ads everywhere you look. One antidote is to make a gratitude calendar, similar to an Advent calendar. For each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas, an Advent calendar has a little door for kids to open to reveal a message, a toy, or a chocolate. The gratitude calendar has 24 empty pockets. Each day, kids take a small piece of paper, write on it something they’re grateful for, and slip it in the pocket. It could be a lot of fun to spend time on Christmas Day reading through all the things everyone’s grateful for.
- Manage the gift expectations. Talk to your kids about their wish lists and have them force rank the gifts they love the most. Then – set a limit. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah – one gift on each of the 8 nights makes it easy. If you celebrate Christmas – set a limit – either in the number of gifts for younger kids or a dollar amount for older kids. Try to make an agreement with extended family to purchase only one gift per child. (This can be tricky – but if the whole family is on board – they may be more likely to go along.)
- Make a Christmas GIVING List. Spend time talking about each person in the family or extended family. Think about what each person likes or might enjoy. Encourage the child to think beyond the physical gift, perhaps about hobbies (grandma likes to bake), or about life events (Uncle bob misses his dog that died last year). Work with your child to come up with neat ideas that match each person and make a list!
- Focus on the real meaning of the holiday. Gifts are one part of the holiday experience – but teach your kids about WHY you celebrate that holiday. What does it mean to your faith? Why are gifts part of the holiday and what do they represent? Then – shift the focus to giving. Spend the majority of your holiday preparations on the joy of giving to others. Encourage your kids to create gifts for family and friends – or give non-material gifts like coupons for breakfast in bed, a weekend of yard work, a back massage – what ever would be meaningful to that person. Adopt a family through your place of worship or school and get everyone involved in making the holiday more special for that family.
- Have them put one thing on their Christmas List that money cannot buy. Love, friendship, world peace. Then get creative about how you make that thing happen (donation to a matching charity, helping at the local soup kitchen, joining a new meetup group to make new friends, adopting a child through an international outreach program, donating a heifer)
- Role-play HOW to show gratitude. Practice the words to use when someone gives them a gift or shows kindness. Help them practice showing gratitude for the thought or the effort behind the gift, not just the gift. “That was so thoughtful of you to find something pink because you know that’s my favorite color.”
- Slow down the gift exchange. While some families enjoy the chaotic, paper-flying frenzy of every child opening gifts simultaneously, a more civilized approach to family celebrations allows everyone to admire the gift and gives the recipient the time to truly appreciate the gift and to thank the giver. Gifts are distributed to the recipients, but go around the room opening one at a time. This gives gratitude and good manners a fighting chance, and it allows you the opportunity to savor the moment of generosity among your loved ones! If you want extra credit, you can use the role-playing you did yesterday to help your child find one thing about each gift to mention as they say thank you.
- Have them send handwritten thank you notes within 1 day of receiving a gift. Sorry, but emails don’t cut it! Provide training on HOW to write thank you notes. Set a minimum number of sentences for their thank you notes…example – 2nd grade: at least 2 sentences. 3rd grade: 3 sentences.
- Be Grateful for them being Grateful. – As parents, part of our job is to catch our kids doing the wrong thing so we can provide them lessons on how to make better decisions. In addition, try catching them when they do the RIGHT thing. Next time they say thank you without having to be reminded, praise them. To make a stronger impression, don’t praise the action, praise the quality they demonstrate. For example, instead of saying “Great job saying thank you,” try something like “I love how you said thank you without being reminded. That shows me that you are a person who really cares when people help you, that you are a person with amazing Gratitude.” This helps the child recognize WHY you are praising them, but also starts to associate their own self-view as that of a grateful person.
- Limit gift-giving throughout the year. Abundance Paradox: Your kids will be more disappointed by not receiving the gift they want than they will be happy for receiving the gift they want. Kids who have everything don’t appreciate gifts as much. Be very careful of overindulging your kids throughout the year. We recommend that parents buy new toys/stuff only on holidays and birthdays. Other than that, kids over the age of 4 might have an allowance and pay for their own toys. During the holidays, limit the number of gifts for each child. The more gifts they receive, the less special each one becomes.
- Count your blessings as a family. Make counting blessings part of your mealtime ritual or bedtime ritual. As kids get older, encourage them to keep a daily gratitude journal. Being intentional about gratitude is a daily reminder of how lucky we are.
- Sponsor someone in need. – Help your children see the needs right around them. Select a child from an Angel Tree, and help your child pick their gifts. Your school’s counselor and local foster care agencies will also have a list of children who could use a little Christmas cheer. While it is easier to shop for these gifts without the kids, take them along and talk about the importance of caring for those in need. I double my impact by working with local charities to support the kids of local military members who are deployed, or who made the ultimate sacrifice.
- Let Teens take the lead. Christine Carter, a sociologist and happiness expert at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, points out that teens need to break away from their parents. Every time they take your advice or instruction about how to foster gratitude they are, in some ways, remaining dependent on you. (They want you to recognize them) So how do you both encourage gratitude and promote independence? Carter recommends letting teens lead family gratitude exercises. Tell your son, for instance, that you’d like to find ways of promoting gratitude – for yourself as much as anyone – and ask him for some suggestions on how to do that. Essentially, let him design the family gratitude project, whether that is journaling, dinner conversations, or anything else. She also suggests bringing gratitude into conversations about challenges. Ask your teen whether anything good came out of a bad experience at school, for instance, or whether there was anything he learned from a fight with his best friend. Don’t be preachy here; the point is to engage with respect but to also subtly introduce the notion that despite negative experiences, there is still much for which to be grateful. And remember, resistance is your teen’s developmental job. Try to be grateful for it. Really.
- Let kids SEE how lucky they are. Ongoing lectures about “you don’t know how good you have it” only makes their eyes roll. Get out into the community with your kids and serve food in a soup kitchen, adopt a family during the holidays, or visit kids who are in homeless shelters so they can SEE how fortunate they really are. . It’s simple math: The more time you spend thinking about others, the less time you have to think about yourself. If you already live a service lifestyle, perhaps a small gift related to that service might be in order, for example, a t-shirt with a related graphic, or a Pandora bracelet with a charm related to your particular charity.
- Model gratitude. Take time to show gratitude yourself. Thank your kids and your spouse for their helpful and thoughtful acts. Show random acts of gratitude to the cashier, the person who makes your coffee at Starbucks, and the dry cleaner. Modeling gratitude yourself will make your kids more likely to adopt an attitude of gratitude.
- Help focus and support kids to achieve intrinsic goals. It’s very easy for people, especially youth, to pursue extrinsic—or materialistic—goals such as desiring or having possessions that show wealth, status, or convey a certain image. This usually leads to less fulfilling social relationships and forecloses prospects for developing deep connections with others and genuine gratitude. It’s our job to steer them away from pursuing extrinsic goals and toward pursuing intrinsic goals, such as engaging in activities that provide community, affiliation, and growth. Not only will successfully achieving these goals fulfill children’s fundamental human needs of competency, belongingness, and autonomy, but their personal development, happiness, success, and gratitude depend on it. To amplify their gratitude even more, remember to savor their accomplishments with them along the way, and encourage them to thank those who’ve helped them meet their goals.
- Send a care package. There are many local charities that send care packages to veterans in need or to active duty military serving abroad.
- Give Experiences instead of physical gifts. Think about taking the kids to see a Broadway show, or getting horseback riding classes, signing them up for martial arts lessons, or even making a new tradition of taking a family road trip to find the perfect tree. Memories will last long after the toys have hit the landfill! This also reinforces the child’s ability to look beyond the gift-wrapped box under the tree. Need an idea? Maybe giving the gift of martial arts is right for your child 🙂
- Give the gift of ATTENTION. Holidays are often times of, hustle, bustle, and family reunion, and kids tend to be lost in the shuffle, or sent off to play. Be sure to provide kids your undivided attention when they ask for it. Help them feel included in the family bonds. Let them hear you praise them, preferably about qualities they display rather than the results they get. This helps reinforce those qualities in their own sense of self.
- Recognize the cost. For a child to be truly grateful, researchers have found, he or she needs to understand that someone intentionally bestowed some benefit on him (whether that’s a new toy or a cooked meal or homework help from Mom), and that the act involved some cost to the giver (i.e., Mom really could have done something else with that hour she spent working on math problems). This one might sound tricky to parents. It seems like a bit of a downer to start lecturing about how hard Grandma and Grandpa worked during their lives to now have the money to buy a new winter coat for Junior. (And they walked uphill to school both ways!) But there are ways to point out to your kid that others have, in fact, gone out of their way to help her. (“Wow, it’s really great that Nana came to visit you this weekend. I know she had to take a couple days off work, which is challenging for her, so she must really love us.”) Gratitude, as Prof. Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis psychologist and leading researcher on gratitude, has written, is both the affirmation of goodness in the world and the process of figuring out where that goodness originates. Recognizing that other people are making an effort to bring good to us is at the heart of gratitude.
- Say thank you with cookies. Prepare and deliver a homemade “thank you” to your local fire or police department, or your pediatrician’s or dentist’s office.
- Pay it forward in the drive-thru lane. For older kids, use your own money to pay for someone else’s meal. Some local diners have programs where you can pay ahead for a coffee or meal and local homeless can come in to take advantage of the gift. If you can’t find one, here’s a great entrepreneurial lesson about networking: Work with your child to talk to local establishments to see about starting such a program.
- Christmas Tree Scavenger hunt. Create a list of things one might find around the holiday neighborhood: A house with all blue lights, a Nativity, Rudolph, Santa on a motorcycle, a Menorah, Frosty the Snowman… then drive around the town checking out the lights! As you do, be very careful of your language. Make sure you talk about how much effort people put into their displays, how great it is that people do this for our enjoyment, ask about which house was their favorite, which display took the most effort, why people put in so much effort in the cold months. Also work into the conversation how great you feel having everyone together. Don’t forget to check off those lists! Celebrate the winner by having them select the place they think the most family members would enjoy from which to get some hot chocolate, or by having the winner be the one to make the donation to the Salvation Army bell ringer.
- Make a video thanking everyone. Help your child make a Facebook or YouTube video thanking them for helping your child show more gratitude. At the end show extra gratitude by thanking them for watching, for joining, and for their feedback. Send the link to the video via a message, en email, or even just post it right on someone’s wall. DOn’t forget to cast a wide circle when considering who should be acknowledged; encourage them to include those who normally don’t get thanked: the janitor at the school, their crossing guard, the garbage man. Express your own gratitude with them to make it a family affair, and wish everyone a joyous holiday. It will bring a smile to everyone you include!
If you got some value out of this article and would like more parenting tips, be sure to join our SKILLZ of Patchogue Parents Group on Facebook.
Michael is a 6th-degree black sash under his teacher, Moises Arocho, and has been training in martial arts since 1985. Michael has a degree in Massage Therapy from NY College of Health Professions. He is the co-owner of 4GK Martial Arts in Patchogue, NY, and Skillz of Patchogue, a childhood development facility using martial arts and other movement modalities as the vehicle for kids’ growth and success. Michael is also the Lead Consultant for Skillz Worldwide.
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