How to Encourage Gratitude in Your Children During the Holidays

I remember my excitement the day the Sears & Roebuck catalog landed in the mailbox of my childhood home. I carefully looked through each section circling the gifts I wanted to find under our Christmas tree. The Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, Barbie’s Dream House, and a Cabbage Patch Kid made the list more than once. The more pages I turned, the longer my wish list grew.

Every year, kids near and far make a Christmas wish list. Some send their list to Santa in letter form. Others create Pinterest boards so tech-savvy relatives can click to order. Even kind-hearted strangers ask our kids what they want for Christmas. By the time the sun rises on Christmas morning, many kids have high expectations for a massive Christmas haul.

A “give me” mentality easily consumes our children this time of year. How do we counter entitlement without becoming a scrooge? Parents can encourage gratitude in their children during the holidays by incorporating a few new traditions.

Sponsor someone in need.

Help your children see the needs right around them. Select a child from an Angel Tree, and help your child pick their gifts. Your school’s counselor and local foster care agencies will also have a list of children who could use a little Christmas cheer. While it is easier to shop for these gifts without the kids, take them along and talk about the importance of caring for those in need (see James 1:27, Psalm 82:3).

Stuff their stocking with thank you notes.

Letter writing is a dying art. We send quick “thank you” texts instead of traditional thank you notes. Include a package of thank you notes, a fun pen, and stamps in your child’s stocking. Help them write a thankful response to the generous gift-givers in their life. Younger kids can draw a picture to thank their grandparents. Teaching this skill now will help establish a life-long habit of gratitude.

Spend their own money for gifts.

Children not only enjoy receiving gifts, they also like to give. Allow your child to earn money for gift giving by completing age-appropriate household chores. Not only will this teach your child the value of a dollar, they will feel an added measure of dignity when they present their hard-earned gift to friends and family. Knowing how much gift-giving costs helps them appreciate the gifts they receive a little more

Select a charity to support.

Many charitable organizations rely on year-end gifts to meet budget. Select a charity that coincides with your family values. Explain to your children how the organization positively impacts others and why your family chose that charity. You can even select gifts for families in developing countries through organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, and Compassion International. During this season of getting what you want, give your kids perspective by exposing them to real needs.

Serve someone.

Counter entitlement with acts of service. Invite your kids into the kitchen to help bake cookies for a neighbor. Let them join you for the delivery so they can see how their thoughtfulness brings a smile. Other ways to serve others include collecting socks for a homeless shelter, taking craft supplies to a local children’s hospital, and making cards for nursing home residents. In Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen Welch says, “When our hands are busy serving others, we aren’t thinking about what we don’t have. Instead, we are thankful for what we do have.”

There’s no need to cancel Christmas to fight entitlement during the holidays. Incorporating a few of these activities before and after Christmas can encourage gratitude during the holidays and throughout the year. Remember, the best way to teach gratitude is to model gratitude!