You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Gifts and Fostering a Grateful Heart in Your Child

The tree lights are shining, the packages are wrapped, Grandma watches as your sweet child opens his first gift…“EWWW! I don’t like Elmo!  Do I have another present?”  It is like a bad dream….

‘Tis the season of gifts…and sometimes socially unacceptable behavior!  Children have a difficult time handling disappointment until about age 8, and we parents have the challenge to foster gratefulness and contentment in a society that has become more materialistic over the years.  If we are not careful, our children can become programmed to believe they should always get the biggest and best, and feel a real sense of entitlement.  What can we do as parents to guide our children to develop grateful hearts and to express that gratitude, no matter the gift?!

One of the best ways to push back against a worldly mind-set of bigger and better is to model a grateful attitude.

  • Expressing gratitude daily for our family, home, food, clothing, and other simple items will help your child become aware of gratitude for everyday life.
  • Modeling gratitude in your relationships with relatives and friends and expressing your thankfulness for those people not only when they do something for you, but just because you appreciate them for who they are.  Be sure to express this to your children too!
  • Model generosity.  Make serving others a part of who your family is, find simple ways to serve.  Make cards for Grandparents, friends, neighbors, our troops overseas, visit residents in senior citizens homes, deliver cookies, adopt a grandparent, deliver food to a food pantry, shop for a child who is less fortunate…the list is endless! Don’t shield your child from those who are less fortunate.  Talk about how it might feel not to have a home, or toys, or enough food.   The key is making this a part of who your child is, by making it a part of your family routine.
  • Write thank you notes.  This is a lost art! Take one afternoon and help your child draw a picture, make a hand-print, use stickers or stamps, or an older child to write a few lines of gratitude for the gifts they received.  Make this a fun project…and your child will begin to learn the language of gratefulness.
  • If your child has a large list of “I wants”, let him know that you understand that there are many things that are fun and he would like.  Make it clear that he will not receive all of the gifts, but there will be some of those items and a few surprises.  Have your child help you clear out toys that he or she no longer plays with and donate to those who have less.
  • Help your child understand that a gift is a thoughtful gesture that someone has done for him!  Point out what went into that gift…”Grandma went to the store and saw this, she thought of you!  See how pretty the package is?  This is so nice!”  Soon your child will understand the significance of the gift…not just the gift itself.
  • Help your younger child say “thank you”.  Sometimes you will say the words, until the words become a part of his vocabulary.
  • Talk about how it feels to give someone a gift.  The feeling of gift giving, with no expectation of something in return, results in a child who understands a giving heart.
  • So what do you do with the “EWWW I don’t like Elmo!”?  For a young child, step in and help with the uncomfortable situation…”Wow, Grandma picked out a great Elmo, see how soft he is?”  Remember to “practice” with your children too.  Prepare your child that he or she may receive a gift that is not what he or she asked for, or may even have the item already.  Have a line “Thanks, I like it a lot!” that your child has practiced.  Role playing is the perfect way to give your child tools to respond in a socially acceptable way.  Soon, those responses will become natural.

Becoming a grateful person is a process, but a process that can begin very early in a child’s life.  Children begin to develop feelings of empathy by age 3, use that development to foster gratitude and a servant’s heart.  Your child’s life will be enriched with gratitude, and the nightmare of “EWWW I don’t like Elmo!” may be just that, a bad dream!

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.


1 Comment

  1. Karen Hurlbut

    I needed this encouragement!!! Thanks! 🙂 We are battling with this issue right now.


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