It’s only mid-December, but parents everywhere are experiencing the same the parenting challenge: Lack of gratitude. I’m hearing it through email, Twitter, Facebook, and just about everywhere I go. Moms everywhere are reminding their kids to “put it on the list” or “wait and see what Santa brings”. All. Day. Long.
The underlying fear, of course, is that we are raising kids who lack gratitude. We are raising wanters instead of givers. We are raising takers instead of sharers.
As both an expert and a parent, I think we need to change our thought process here. I actually believe that most kids are capable of understanding the importance of giving, sharing, and caring about others. Just this morning my five year old daughter quizzed me about “what else” we can do to help other people this season (we had just made a donation to a charity supported by our local fire department).
The problem is that kids are constantly confronted with stuff right now. Enter any supermarket, Target, pharmacy, or (gasp) toy store and the options are endless. Who wouldn’t want all of that stuff? Truly, I would be more concerned if my kids never asked for anything. That’s what kids do.
And sometimes (make that all of the time for some us), we have to run errands with them. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the over-abundance of toys and holiday gear right now.
So how do we avoid all of this focus on stuff?
We make the most of our downtime. We avoid lectures on gratitude and instead focus on slowing down and appreciating the little things.
Bring back the nature walks: Yes, it’s cold out there for many of you. But chances are you have some warm winter coats to keep you cozy for a few minutes. So get the family out for a walk to search for icicles, make snow angels, and play “I Spy”. And then head home for some much needed hot chocolate.
Family game night: Choose a weekly night (or morning) where you always play a game together. Let one child choose the game while the other fixes snacks for the family. Kids love to get stuff, it’s true, but what they crave most of all is quality time spent with you. Make it happen.
Bake cookies for friends: Cooking and baking are always great bonding activities because even very young toddlers can get involved. My daughter likes to decorate lunch bags and drop off cookies, muffins, and scones to our neighbors. She has already learned that sometimes a fresh baked cookie can really make you feel appreciated. Go ahead and surprise your friends with a fresh baked treat and watch your child’s eyes light up when they realize that a simple act of sharing can really make someone else feel good.
Read, Read, Read: With colder weather and shorter days, this is the perfect time to snuggle up with your children (of all ages) and read as a family. Turn off the electronics and shut down those loud toys for 30 minutes a day and let a good book take you away.
Give back: Talk to your children about the importance of helping others. Have your kids help collect canned goods to drop off to your local charity. Encourage them to share some of their toys that are no longer used in your home but might really make someone else smile.
Take in the lights: Walk or drive around your neighborhood as much as possible during the next few weeks and appreciate the holiday decorations. Talk about your favorites, sing together, and just enjoy the beauty of the holiday season.
Slow down: With school vacation coming, resist the urge to over-schedule. Stay in your PJ’s a little bit longer, ignore that phone as much as possible, and just be together.
Teaching gratitude doesn’t have to involve a lesson plan. Sometimes just the act of slowing down and spending more quality time as a family is the best lesson you can teach.
What is your favorite family activity?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She has a five year old daughter, three year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog, Practical Parenting, and can also be found on Twitter.