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The Secret to Teaching Gratitude During the Holidays

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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 its 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 its 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.

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.

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

Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith, and wellness. She is a mom of two and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.


What’s a good way to show that you’re grateful for a gift?

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