Recently a friend of mine asked if I get everything that D asks for during Christmas time. Since he is only four he isn’t really making a big list, so I do usually buy him what he wants, and usually much more. We have family on both coasts, and none near to our actual house, so we usually end up having three separate Christmas celebrations and that means three opportunities to open presents. Every year I tell myself to just buy a few things since my house already resembles Toys R Us (and it’s a small house!!), but for the past three years I went overboard every time, and learned that it’s not possible for a toddler to even have the attention span to acknowledge or play with every gift he opens. I also learned that while adults have learned to have a filter and can act gracious even when they don’t like a gift they receive, a four year old tells it like it is.
So imagine a scenario where gift after gift contains fun toys and colorful books and my son constantly squeals in delight with each and every package. Now imagine the one package that looks like it could be fun but instead contains….
Drat! Me, I love when people give D clothes. My mother-in-law even jokes that the clothes are more for the parents than the child. D, on the other hand makes no illusion that he does not care for clothes as a gift in any way shape or form. He doesn’t conceal his disappointment and tosses the gift aside. Now we all laugh and brush it off, but in reality I am really embarrassed at his reaction, and I hope that he hasn’t made the gift-giver feel bad.
So I use this as an opportunity to remind him that even though it may not be exactly what he was wanting or expecting, he should be grateful that someone thought enough of him to give him a gift.
Here are some other ways to help foster the spirit of gratitude:
- Write Thank You notes – All my life I have always tried to write thank you notes, and I always loved picking out pretty note cards to send through the mail. I started this tradition with D as well, though at this point it is me who is writing out the actual message. Still, for the first few years he at least saw that I was writing the notes on his behalf. Now he is able to sign his name so I make sure that we do this project together. I ask him what he thinks about the gift, I craft it into a nice message and D signs the card. I want him to know that it’s not only polite to acknowledge when he receives a gift, but it’s also a necessity.
- Incorporate daily discussion of gratitude – During dinner everyone in the family takes a turn saying one thing for which they are grateful, what their favorite part of the day was, or three good things that happened during the day. This way we are constantly reminded to be thinking positively! We are also reminded that even when it feels like we had a bad day, we should still be grateful for what we do have.
- Say Grace or give thanks – My son likes to say grace before every meal, but this doesn’t have to necessarily be religious. Take the time to thank the person who cooked the meal, or acknowledge the server if you are out at a restaurant. The point is for kids to understand that someone helped provide the food they are eating.
- Encourage donations and explain why – I am a huge pack-rat so this is a hard one for me, but a few times a year I prepare a bag to donate to charity. D sees me doing this and I explain that there are less fortunate people in this world who we need to help. Ask your child to pick something, even if it’s just one thing, to give to another needy child.
It’s important to remember that young kids are naturally born with a sense of entitlement in the sense that they expect their parents to love and care for them. But it’s our job as parents to show them that along with the expectation of basic needs and affection, they also need to learn gratitude and appreciation.