Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas: A Tme to Teach Thankfulness

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.


  1. this is a wonderful idea. I plan to use this in the years to come. I came from a family where, if it was a hand-made gift, it would actually get announced and then passed around the room so everyone could appreciate it. when I gave a hand-painted bird house to my MIL the first year J and I were married, she said, "oh, thanks" and put it behind her. I was hurt until I realized that their family doesn't do gift receipt like mine. I had to learn to be gracious when others weren't outwardly grateful.

  2. I loved your post today about teaching thankfulness! And I agree that for children we have to teach them to ACT that way even if they don't FEEL that way b/c it is the right thing to do, and as they mature and see how they have been so graciously & generously provided for, they will truly feel thankful. But until that time comes, they need to have the HABIT of SHOWING thankfulness. My children are now 21, 18, and 15. When they were little it was always like pulling teeth to get them to sit down at the kitchen table to write out their thankyou notes after birthday or Christmas, and I would always say, "Well if it's too much trouble, we could tell them next year to please not send gifts..." And now my 21 yr old is in her 3rd year of college, and I cannot tell you the adults who have called/emailed/facebooked me to tell me how impressed they have been upon receipt of a thank you note from her, sent from her college do rm unprompted by mom--thanks for gifts, a weekend visit, a care package, or even just for being a great friend. So, YES, it does work!


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