Let’s take some ownership here: kids today aren’t insanely selfish and ungrateful.
They’re simply repeating what they see. We don’t exactly set the greatest example as adults.
Think about it. The Christmas season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. On Thursday, we are peacefully sitting around a table, grateful for all we have. Then hours later, Black Friday comes with a vengeance to instantly remind us of everything we don’t have. (And that’s best case scenario – most major retailers don’t even close on Thanksgiving Day anymore + Black Friday sales can start as early as November 1!)
Real talk: this fact isn’t limited to gratitude and giving. But parents, we’ve got to stop putting unrealistic expectations on our kids. When it comes to teaching them, words alone won’t win.
Dave Ramsey puts it this way:
“I truly believe more is caught than taught. . . that what your kids see you do is a lot more powerful than what they hear you say. Words can be strong, but actions are stronger. The strongest impact on children, though, is when they hear and see a consistent message from their parents.”
Observation matters. But I’ll add this to his wisdom: If you want their observation to turn into a personal, meaningful experience, the key ingredient is INVOLVEMENT. How can they go from watching you do to doing themselves?
Here are five ideas to put giving and gratitude into action in our homes:
Let them earn money + take them shopping for family + friends.
Even toddlers can help out with small chores around the house: putting laundry in the washing machine, feeding the family pet, emptying small trashcans, etc. This gives them the opportunity to think about what to gift others, not just what they want to receive. Getting creative on their tiny budget brings joy to the whole family!
For example, at age 4, my niece, Katelyn, gave my husband a bag of chips and a bottled coke since “Aunt Chelle doesn’t like junk food in the house!” We still laugh about it every year.
Adopt family traditions that center on giving.
If all they’re thinking about is making a list for Santa, their brains will struggle to make giving more important than getting. So instead, create traditions that emphasize your family’s values.
Here are a few of our favorites:
When my son was a toddler, we discovered The Giving Manger, the sweetest storybook + activity that allows them to put a piece of straw in the manger every time they do something kind for others. We also partner with our church to provide groceries for poor families in our community and pack shoeboxes for a child around the world with Operation Christmas Child. Then, a few years ago, we started using Black Friday deals to stock up on items like blankets, socks and gloves to hand out to the homeless as temperatures drop.
This time of year, it’s not hard to get involved with giving back. We just have to be intentional to pursue the avenues available to us.
Use the Red, Yellow, Green method for gift opening. (This works for toddlers + up!)
My friend, Gini Taylor, created this for her daughter when she was a toddler. It’s easy to remember, first of all, but it makes a significant impact when done.
RED: When your child opens a gift, STOP. This puts a pause from immediately grabbing the next present.
YELLOW: Connect the gift to the giver.This is where you walk over to whoever gave you the gift and say thank you. If they’re not physically present, this could be a time to make a quick video to send or snap a photo of the child with the gift. But this teaches that gratitude isn’t an afterthought; it’s an immediate response.
GREEN: After gratitude has been expressed, then the next gift can be opened. And if you have multiple kids, the green light is passed to the next person in your family. This creates an equal atmosphere of joy and celebration from watching others open gifts and opening your own.
Control the consumerism as much as possible.
Between our family, grandparents, aunts + uncles, etc., we noticed that our kids actually were tired of opening presents after multiple family gatherings. Beyond not needing anything else, they didn’t even want anything else.
Of course, everyone who loves our kids is well-intentioned, but we decided as parents that it was time to draw some boundaries to stop the excess and make sure that the real meaning of Christmas didn’t get lost in too much “stuff.”
So we limit each extended family to no more than three gifts per child. Our kids still end up getting gifts in the double digits, so they’re hardly deprived! But this way, every gift is still special, and “stuff” doesn’t take priority over what matters most.
Less presents; more memories.
As we’ve realized that our extended family will take care of them in the toy + wants department, we’ve started focusing our budget for Christmas on family memories instead of gifts. Take a trip. Get a zoo/theme park/museum annual pass for the family. Buy family bikes/ski gear/kayaks so you can be active together throughout the year. Consider your budget and your family, but investing in memories over stuff is quickly becoming one of our favorite family traditions.
From our home to yours, Merry Christmas! What’s your favorite way to put gratitude and giving into action in your home?
For more information and advice from Michelle Myers, visit https://sheworkshisway.com/.
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