The Secret to Teaching Gratitude During the Holidays


teaching gratitude

Have you ever noticed that the more we get, the less we tend to appreciate? It’s true for children and adults alike. A child working through a pile of presents at his birthday party will often open one and fling it to the floor—with hardly a glance—in the rush to open yet another.

Christmas offers a similar challenge: At family gatherings and on Christmas morning, there are countless gifts to be opened. We enjoy decadent meals and a constant parade of desserts. How can parents teach gratitude in the middle of holiday excess?

There are things you can do! From your own gift-giving plan to the way you choose to share moments of giving and receiving with friends and family, try these 5 strategies for teaching gratitude during the holidays.

1. Be intentional about changing the focus.

Trust us, this won’t happen on it’s own because there are billions of advertising dollars spent to ensure that the focus stays right where it traditionally is–in your retailer’s pocket. So be proactive about using different language to talk about Christmas this year. For example: Is your Christmas list just a list of things your child wants to receive or a list of things your child wants to give to others? (Try our Christmas Giving and Wishing List to gain some balance.) Training your family to think first about the opportunity to give and to serve can change the feel of your whole holiday experience.

2. Rein Santa Claus in a little.

Heaven knows I’m not anti-Santa. My parents made such a festive production of the whole Santa thing. Daddy would even take one of his mounted deer off the wall, stick a red ball on it’s nose, and have it peer into our windows late on Christmas Eve! It was terrifying magical! But when the jolly old elf is the first, most consistent, element of the Christmas celebration your child comes to know, it’s a short hop from there to “what do I get?” And listen up, moms. Just because Santa is making a stop at your house doesn’t mean he has to bring a stack of 50 things for each child. Less is more. Because we’re Christians, my husband and I decided when our children were small to allow Santa to bring each child three gifts. Our explanation was, “Santa brings three gifts to children to remind them of the three gifts the Wise Men brought to Baby Jesus.” In one felled swoop, we rerouted the secular Santa routine back toward the true meaning of Christmas and capped the tendency toward excess.

3. Slow down the gift exchange.

While some families enjoy the chaotic, paper-flying frenzy of every child opening gifts simultaneously, my sister-in-law brought a better, more civilized approach to our family celebrations. Gifts are distributed to the recipients, but we go around the room opening one at a time. This allows everyone to admire the gift and gives the recipient the time to truly appreciate the gift and to thank the giver. It 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 even help your children write thank you notes to friends and relatives for the things they received.

4. Create more Christmas experiences outside of gift-giving.

It can be watching a few favorite Christmas movies, baking together or taking a drive to see the best holiday lights. There are lots of options. Help your children to build Christmas memories that don’t come wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. {Tweet This}

5. Serve.

I almost hesitate to write this because I personally lament the fact that we’re all moved to serve the less fortunate at Christmastime and seldom think of them the rest of the year. (I’m pretty sure people are hungry and cold in March too.) But having said that, we can’t escape the fact that some charity and service is better than none at all. Help your family find ways to focus on making the holidays better for others: Serve dinner at a nonprofit event or shelter, buy gifts for a needy child or family through a nonprofit program such as Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree or visit a local nursing home to spend time with seniors who longs for company. It’s simple math: The more time you spend thinking about others, the less time you have to think about yourself.

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In The Comments

How do you teach your children to be grateful for their holiday gifts and blessings?


  • Leslie

    Thank you for this blog. Santa only delivers three gifts per child in our household, as well, because that was how many gifts the wise men brought baby Jesus. My children are at the age that I have been including them more purposefully in our family’s efforts of supporting children less fortunate. We bought presents and filled shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, took cards off the tree at church to buy for the families we are supporting, and even shopped for the children of the families we adopted at my place of employment. In all my effort to teach them the meaning of Christmas, that it feels better to give than receive, it never occurred to me these two little children who still believe in Santa would ask me in all our gift buying for those less fortunate why Santa just doesn’t deliver them gifts. I was stopped in my tracks without a good answer. Anyone out there have a good reply to that question? Thanks, in advance.

    • Alicia

      HI Leslie! My daughter asked me the same question. Not sure if it is the best answer, but it worked for us. I told her that Santa needs helpers, not only the elves that make the toys, but helpers to share the joy of Christmas. I told her that he looks for kids of great hearts that are willing to share love and gratitute with others. He choses those kids as helpers so they can give some gifts and food to others in need. She was happy with the answer and I has happy with the idea 🙂 Hope that helps!