Mid-gift-opening last Christmas with my in-laws, my four-year-old uttered a phrase that sends chills down any well meaning parent’s spine: “That’s all???”
The kid got a pass because, well, she was four, and impulse control had not been invited to the festivities that day. But her comment was enough to literally make me break out into a sweat and begin thinking about how I could intentionally cultivate generosity and gratitude with my kids during the holidays.
We have discovered a lot about gratitude in recent years, and what we’ve learned is no less than astounding. Studies have consistently shown us that practicing gratitude is effective in increasing well-being, as it improves our psychological, social, and spiritual resources.
Let’s be real for a second. The culture our kids absorb during Christmas is basically beckoning them into a greedy and selfish mindset. Luckily, as parents we can make the culture inside our own homes reflect the true meaning and values of what the holiday season means to us and our family.
Give a lesson on advertising
The holidays are a prime opportunity to give your child a head’s up that toy corporations want to steal a piece of their tiny impressionable soul, lock it up, and throw away the key. Okay, so possibly with different language, but helping your child to see through the gimmicks of holiday advertising will help them be less impressionable to material greed.
We can point out how stores and commercials set out to increase their desire to consume, and also blur the line between what they want and what they actually need.
Watching ads together and reminding them that, even though the smiling perfectly dressed kids with the new toy seem to imply happiness, we know for a fact that money and material items have no correlation to long term happiness.
Explaining to your child that – although toy companies will do their darndest (including using emotionally manipulative measures) to convince us otherwise – toys are not in fact the reason for the season, and that your family celebrates the holidays for reasons much more meaningful and important.
Get your kids in on the giving
Whether it be small scale or large, involving kids in selfless acts of generosity will increase appreciation for what they have.
My husband is a master gift giving guru. Ever since our oldest was three, he began pulling her into the conversation of what to get for mom. Now each year, the kids are expected to brainstorm gift ideas for family members, which automatically shifts their thinking outwards and away from themselves. Kids can also learn the value of a dollar by engaging in gift purchase transactions, and helping to keep track of a gift budget.
We also have an awesome opportunity to build family bonds and increase our child’s worldview during the holidays by choosing a cause outside the family to support. Whether this be giving a financial donation, spending time together at a food bank, or random acts of kindness for those in need, our kids are learning invaluable lessons about how fortunate they really are.
Model gratitude and generosity
If we really want to decrease greed and increase gratitude, incorporating it into a ritual or routine is key. The holidays serve as a perfect opportunity to begin a gratitude circle during dinner, or during holiday festivities. When parents make gratitude a priority, kids will, too. It won’t be long before everyone is feeling all the positive feels, and reaping gratitude’s many benefits.
Along with making new rituals during the holidays, we should model presence. If we are flying around like Martha Stewart on steroids, we will likely have some good cookies as a result, but it’s at the risk of missing what really matters.
Only when we slow down a bit each day and take in our surroundings, can we really get in touch with our own feelings of gratitude. When we genuinely express our gratitude to our children, it teaches a powerful lesson that will likely be woven into your child’s intrinsic view of the holidays.
Role play holiday expectations
With kids five or younger, some of the aforementioned ideas may prove to be a bit too abstract, although it’s certainly never too early to start sowing seeds. For those of you who still want to do what you can to decrease the sweat output during holiday get-togethers, role playing will make the abstract concepts of manners, patience, and gratitude more concrete and easy to remember.
Get right down on the floor with your kids and give them words and guidance that align with your family’s expectations. Then offer up lots of praise when they are able to follow through.
The holidays are not a stress-free time for parents. We are told a million-and-one traditions and activities must be completed for optimal holiday magic. Take a few minutes to reflect on what “holiday magic” really means to you though.
I’m guessing most of us would say it involves a little less time at the store and a little more time giving our kids the gifts you can’t buy, but will value forever.