How to Teach Kids to be Grateful

A young girl makes a heart shape with her hands. She is wearing a green sweater with little Santa hat designs.

I remember the days when my children made lists of desired holiday toys. They pored over the toy catalogs that came in the mailbox until their lists grew quite long. They knew there were several deep pockets available to dig into, including grandparents and us, their ever-wanting-to-please parents.

We weren’t rich, so our children didn’t get everything on their lists, but the process was in motion to create hearts less than thankful for what they already had. Were we playing into the greedy mentality of so many youth of today?

I hear you exclaiming that Christmas is the time to give generously, and I would agree. But if you have an inkling that your children are missing out on the giving part and leaning more toward the receiving, this message is for you.

We can teach our children to count their blessings. We can make an effort to teach them about those less fortunate this holiday season and embrace a bit of true good will toward men. Here’s how.

Don’t Be Part of the Problem

Do you feel your child’s heart will break if they don’t get that expensive electronic toy for Christmas? Probably not. In fact, it may be good for children to receive less expensive gifts and forego something that is too expensive for your family’s budget. That little disappointment can be turned into a means of understanding the real needs of those less fortunate and putting wants into perspective.

Teach Kindness and Compassion

The holidays are a perfect time to teach generosity. Choose a reputable organization and help provide for the needs of the poor in other countries. Let your kids help choose the project.

Look for ways to provide food and gifts in your local community. Maybe your family can help to serve a meal at a local shelter or take a food box to a needy family. Maybe you could do yard work or run errands for elderly neighbors.

The opportunities to give abound during the holidays. Don’t let your children focus only on what they’ll receive.

Tell Your Stories

Compared to today, it’s nearly always true that we adults received fewer and less expensive gifts when we were young. And our parents may not even have celebrated Christmas with gifts. While today’s children take lots of presents for granted, it wasn’t always the case that children “cleaned up” during the holidays.

Take the opportunity to teach your children about the practices of earlier generations. Talk about what you could do as a family to be givers. Help your children experience the joy of giving in practical ways.

More Than Material Things

While it’s normal for children to want toys and gifts, don’t underestimate their ability to understand and embrace a generous lifestyle. Kids love to make things for others, and they can rise to the occasion by showing their appreciation for the intangible treasures in life—friends, family, health, time spent together and more. Encourage family conversations focusing on generosity and family values.

Engage the family in creating a list of those intangible treasures and turn it into a wall hanging or framed picture. Children often understand more about life than they’re able to express in words. They’re little sponges soaking in the life lessons we teach them. So, go ahead and do all you can to build kindness, goodness and gratitude into the character of your children this holiday season.

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, education and family life articles. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun.

For another good resource on this topic, Pierce recommends “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World” by Kristen Welch.


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