Psychologists have found that people who regularly say thank you and remember to be grateful for things in their life tend to be happier and more optimistic. They can’t say there is definitely a cause-and-effect relationship between gratitude and happiness, but counting your blessings certainly doesn’t hurt.
Teaching gratitude is something that should happen all year; however, the holiday season quickly can prove whether the lessons have been a success. The good cheer of the holidays can disappear in a whirl of greed and gluttony. That’s true for all of us, young and old, but it’s especially apparent when children, the prime gift recipients of the season, act ungratefully.
No one wants to have the kid refusing to thank Aunt Betty for the hand-made sweater—or even worse, declaring it ugly. Yes, we want children to be truly grateful in their hearts, but let’s face it, we also want to avoid unpleasant scenes. Gratitude and politeness go hand-in-hand.
Here are easy some ways to teach and show gratitude all year, and especially at the holiday season.
Practice daily gratitude
Remember to say please and thank you. Thank the people who fix you supper. Be kind and generous to servers at restaurants or cashiers in stores. Before bed, list the things that made your day better either silently or with your kids before they go to sleep.
Give before you receive
Before the holidays, we go through the toys and pick some to donate to charity. My oldest, at nearly 5, truly is able to help with this task, though after each boy has identified one or two toys in good condition to give, I send them outside to play and finish up the purge on my own. In addition to donating gently-used toys, each year I take the boys shopping for one new to donate to Toys for Tots or a similar local charity. I keep change for the boys to drop into Salvation Army buckets.
Always, always say thank you
Even the smallest children can say thank you—for anything they receive, whether it’s a sample at the grocery store or a birthday gift. Even if they don’t quite understand what it means, they can get in the habit of saying it. As they get older, you can teach them to mean it. If you can’t thank someone in person for a gift, sit down the next day and write a thank-you note, then send it. If the child is too small to write, have her draw a picture and ask her questions about the gift, writing down the answers.
Make gift-giving exciting
Let the kids pick out gifts for each other on birthdays and holidays and help pick out gifts for Mom, Dad or other relatives. Give them a bit of money and let them handle the transactions on their own. Make it a “date” with Momma or Daddy. Better yet, have them make a gift. Make it a family event with snacks and drinks. Have them help wrap things up and encourage them to keep it secret.
Remember those less-fortunate
It’s a cliché to tell a whining child refusing to eat about starving children in China—but it’s not necessarily a bad idea. I find its best, though, to keep the lesson closer to home. About 15 percent of American households aren’t sure how they’ll pay for their meals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In my own county, that number is closer to 30 percent, and I tell my kids that there are children, probably on our street, who might not get supper. I tell them this when they’re whining about having to wait 15 minutes for dinner, but also when we gather canned goods for a food drive or when I write a check to the local food pantry. Don’t scare your child, but don’t hide the facts and enlist them in helping people.