It’s Christmas. I love Christmas. I enjoy the decorating, the time together, the baking, the food and the movies and music. And while my kids enjoy those things as well, I think they would be lying if they said they looked forward to anything other than the presents.
This year was extra fun, as my five-year-old really started to grasp the concept that she could ask for specific things. What she didn’t grasp, however, is that Santa begins making toys fairly early on, and doesn’t do well when the wish list is changed just a week or two away from Christmas.
This year, she referred to the whole Target toy catalog as her “Christmas list.” Her poor little heart was broken when we had to explain that she wouldn’t get everything on her “list,” no matter how much she “really, REALLY wanted it.”
She struggled buying gifts for other people because she wanted to get them what she wanted, instead of what they wanted. And when she found out that other people were shopping for her, she asked if she could just buy her own presents instead because she just knew that no one would get her what she really wanted, so it would just be easier if she bought it all herself. I’ll give her points for persistence and creativity.
This year, in the midst of a pandemic, we’ve talked a lot about being thankful for what we have and where we are. We’ve had to explain many times why we can’t eat inside Chick-fil-A, and why for the longest time, we couldn’t go to the park or the playground. And while they initially liked not being in school, they quickly became bored and lonely.
So you can imagine how hearing her sweet little voice explain that she probably wouldn’t like the gifts she received caused a bit of frustration.
In our instant gratification society, even the youngest kids are accustomed to immediately getting what they want. My youngest, who does struggle with speaking, doesn’t struggle with communicating when he’s unhappy because he didn’t get what he wanted immediately.
So then how do we breed thankfulness in our children? Do we simply take away the gifts they do get? Do we take away the phone when the teen doesn’t get the one they wanted?
I think gratitude, or thankfulness, like anything, is a mindset. But since some of us may not be naturally inclined to have an attitude of gratitude, we can start making a change by making it a habit. I realize that some of these ideas may have to take hold in our minds and lives as adults before we can expect our children to grasp the concept.
Have your kids make a list of who gives them what gifts this holiday. Then, have them write thank you notes to those people. And continue this practice for birthdays or any other time they receive a gift or are invited to join an activity. This proves to do two things. 1) Your kid will begin to mentally write thank you notes as they open gifts or enjoy activities. 2) you kids will keep a better account of what gifts are from whom. So as they play with things, or decide what to keep for memories, they will be able to link a person to the gift.
Create a gratitude jar in your house. This utilizes positive reinforcement, rather than punishment. Each time you hear your kids expressing thankfulness, put a dollar or so in the jar. When the jar gets full, use that money for a special trip or treat for the family. Maybe it is a movie night with pizza, a trip to an amusement park, or even some type of a big ticket item like a night away. Not only will you start to notice your kids expressing gratitude more often, but they will also begin to be grateful for being grateful.
Pick a local community project you want to complete. Maybe it’s picking a name off an angel tree to shop for. Maybe its hosting a “free” yard sale to give things away, or fix a meal for those who may be sick. Deliver new socks and gloves to a shelter in Chattanooga, or take a warm meal to someone who may be asking for money or food on the side of the road. Children of all ages benefit from seeing themselves meet a need, and at the same time, they realize how fortunate they really are.
As parents, it is really hard not to want to make sure the holiday is special for our kids. We want to not only meet their needs, but give also fulfill their wants. In fact, right now I’m trying to locate a dog or cat toy that walks on a leash, since my five-year-old insists that is really, really what she wants Santa to leave under the tree, rather than the doll she asked for months ago. And while part of me wants to use her disappointment as a teaching moment, there’s also part of me that wants to keep the magic of Christmas alive. And while I’m not saying that the cat won’t end up under our tree, I am saying that Santa will get a thank you note this year.