Thankfulness is something that is taught and nurtured; it does not just happen.
For children, their behavior or actions proceed their beliefs. Let me explain what I mean. For adults, it is the opposite: our beliefs proceed our actions. For example, I believe stealing is wrong. Therefore I don't take the sweater from the store. I pay for it (with a coupon of course!). I also believe thanking people is right and I am sincerely appreciative of the gift and the person who gave it to me, therefore I write thank you notes.
For kids this is reversed. They will believe being thankful is right and hopefully cultivate a genuine thankfulness once they have learned to thank people and this becomes a habit. The point of sharing this is, Rob and I believe that the way to train a young (under 10) child's heart is to transform their behavior.
And Christmas provides so many opportunites to express thanks and reinforce being thankful with our children.Here's what we do to cultivate thankfulness in our children:
Before we go to Grandma's house, or Aunt Jenny's house, or the neighbors bring over gifts, we practice how to open presents and how to respond. We discuss choosing to be thankful and then expressing that thankfulness to the gift-giver.
We talk about making sure we have the person's attention before we speak and about looking the person in the eyes.
We talk about being enthusiastic.
We talk about how it means so much more to tell the person something specific when you thank them. We talk about how sharing at least one thing about the gift such as: "Green is my favorite color", "I love sparkly jewelry", "You were sweet to remember that I like motorcycles", or "I could use these" means so much more than just a "Thank you."
In these days before our Christmas celebrations, we ask questions like these around the dinner table:
What do you do if you already have the toy?
What if someone gives you something lame like socks?
What if someone asks you a tough question like, "Do you already have one?" (a question adults shouldn't ask, but do). We tell our kids to be honest and say something like, "Yes, I do have one, but you were really sweet to remember I am a music fan. I will get Mom to help me exchange it. I have been wanting a new TobyMac CD."
With little ones, I recommend role playing. Wrap up a pair of underwear (the kids will think this is hilarious). Let your child unwrap the present, act excited, and thank you for the underwear by:
1. looking you in the eye
2. acting excited
3. naming the gift: thank you for the _____
4. saying at least one specific thing he likes about the gift such as,"I can always use new underwear."
And it is totally ok (and right!) to remind your kids to say thank you if they forget during the excitement of the actual day. My sister-in-law has a secret sign to remind her kids.
My sister-in-law gets her kids' attention if they forget to say thank you and then gives them the sign language sign for thank you to remind them. Love this idea.