Teaching Kids to be Grateful for Gifts
Teaching kids to be grateful for gifts can be a challenge sometimes!
Giving gifts to our children for Christmas or birthdays is a ton of fun — until you start hearing things like “I don't want this!” or seeing one gift hurriedly tossed aside while they ask “What else do I get?”
As much as we try to teach our children to be grateful for what they get, there is definitely a learning curve and they don't always get it the first time around! So if you're doing these things and they're still acting like spoiled brats, don't be discouraged. Keep at it, and gratefulness will begin to form into their character where they exhibit it on their own. Their heart attitude — not conformity — is the goal, and that takes time.
Below are some things we have done with our children around Christmas or birthday time to help them learn to be thankful for what they receive. All of these require learning to place others before themselves.
Disappointing gift? If they've learned to put others first, they can refrain from making rude comments that would hurt the giver's feelings.
Expecting more presents? Learning to put others first means they learn to put their focus on what they can give to someone else instead of what others can give to them.
1. Prepare them ahead of time.
I hate it when we go to a family gathering and I realize I haven't talked to my children ahead of time to remind them to say thank you when someone gives them a gift and to keep the “I don't like this!” comments inside their head. I try to remember to talk to them before gift opening time so they can be prepared to respond appropriately when given a gift.
2. Have them say thank you.
Even if you forgot to remind them ahead of time, make sure your children say thank you for every single gift they receive. Stay nearby while they are opening gifts so you can make sure this happens.
3. Have them write a thank you note.
Besides saying thank you verbally, have your children write a thank you note after the fact. For very young children, you can write the thank-you note for them and have them sign their own name. The note should include some reason they like their gift, and if they honestly don't like it, help them think of a way to express gratefulness anyway. (“I'm so glad you were thinking of me!” or something similar.)
4. Do not allow complaining.
If you ever hear the “I don't like this!” comments coming from your child, deal with it immediately. Pull your child aside and remind them that gratefulness is a choice. Encourage them to focus on the positive. (“Maybe that gift from Aunt Sally was disappointing, but let's think of something for which to be thankful. You have a lot of people in this room who love you very much. Things will wear out or you'll get tired of them, but a family who loves you is priceless.”)
5. Focus on giving; not getting.
At Christmas, keep the focus on what they can give to others; not on what they're going to get. When they've carefully thought of others, the excitement shifts from opening their own presents to watching others open theirs.
6. Open presents slowly, savoring each one.
Rather than allowing a free-for-all, paper-ripping frenzy, have your children open gifts one at a time. This keeps things quiet enough where they can say thank you for each gift and to pay attention to it long enough to be glad for it even if that's the only thing they get.
7. Don't make the presents the main thing.
Make the fun of Christmas or birthdays be the other activities that bring your family together. The presents are just a bonus!
8. Address displays of ungratefulness and praise good efforts toward being grateful.
After the presents have all been unwrapped and the celebration is over, sit down with your child and have them think about their behavior. “You told Aunt Sally thank you for the sweater she got you, but you threw it to the side and busted into another gift before you'd really even looked at it. Do you think that was really being thankful?” or “I know you were disappointed that you didn't get the gift you were hoping to, but you still chose to be thankful for what you got. Good job!”
When you do these things year after year, your children will come to understand that they need to be grateful for every gift they receive. It's okay to be disappointed if something isn't exactly what you want, but you can still make a deliberate choice to be grateful for it anyway. It's not about pretending; it's about truly recognizing all the good things we do have. If someone gets you something really nice — fabulous! If someone gets you something not-so-nice — it's okay! You can still be polite and say thank you, recognizing that they gave you a gift because they love you.