Before every Christmas and birthday when my kids were younger we played a little game: The terrible presents game.
We took turns thinking of awful presents and pretending to give them to each other.
“Merry Christmas! Here’s my old smelly socks”
“I couldn’t think of what to get you, but you can have my broken toaster.”
The aim of the game was to find a way to be grateful and politely say thank you, as specifically and genuinely as possible, no matter what we received. We got pretty creative with it.
Teach gratitude that’s specific
I had a very proud mum moment when my 11-year-old daughter offered a pile of elephant poo and my seven-year-old replied with “Thanks so much! I’ve been needing some fertiliser for the garden!”
We made the specific-ness of the thank-you important. Specific thank-you’s are more thought-out (and mean the kids don’t sound like little robots spouting out meaningless niceties just because mummy told them to.)
An attitude of “Isn’t it great that someone was thinking of me and bought me a gift,” is much better than the opposite of gratitude–entitlement. So even if they can’t think of a specific reason to be thankful for the gift, they can be grateful that someone loved them enough to bother getting them a present at all.
We pretended to give double ups of toys they already owned, boring gifts and ridiculous gifts. It’s a fun game, but I also had an agenda. I wanted to ensure that no matter what a friend or relative gave my children, they would respond with a smile and a thank you.
There’s nothing more embarrassing than watching your child melt into a bratty tantrum at the family Christmas party because they didn’t get what they wanted.
Why do manners matter?
Well-mannered kids are lovely to be around. Thank-you’s and pleases are respectful, and everyone feels better when people are polite. Thank-you’s even strengthen our social and emotional bonds with people.
Children get a lot of positive feedback from adults when they use manners. But learning to be thankful actually benefits our kids in more ways than just being socially acceptable humans.
Teaching our children thankfulness, or gratitude, is one of the ways we can encourage them to develop into healthy, happy adults who are much more resilient in difficult times.
A number of research studies have found some amazing benefits to practicing gratitude:
- Stronger immune systems and less depression;
- More joy, optimism, and happiness;
- Stronger relationships and more generous behaviour;
- Less feelings of loneliness and isolation.
One study on children and gratitude by researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono, found that grateful kids, when compared to their less grateful peers, were:
- more optimistic
- had better social support
- more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves overall.
- And gave more emotional support to others.
The same study also looked at teenagers and discovered that grateful teens (ages 14-19) were more satisfied with their lives, used their strengths to help others and improve their community, did better at school and engaged more in their hobbies, and were less envious, depressed, and materialistic than other less grateful teens.
7 Keys to Parenting Grateful Kids
Froh and Bono suggest 7 ways to encourage Gratitude in our kids.
- Model and Teach it–Expressing gratitude through words, writing, and small gifts or acts of reciprocity.
- Spend focused time with your kids–being present when you’re with your children helps you maintain empathy towards them. By doing this you are modelling empathy, the most important emotion for developing gratitude and moral behaviour.
- Firm but flexible parenting style–this improves family relationship and atmosphere at home, and helps bring out the children’s strengths and talents, all good for making grateful kids.
- Use strengths to fuel gratitude–encourage and help your children to use their strengths to thank and be kind to others.
- Help kids achieve intrinsic goals–instead of materialistic goals focused on wealth, possessions or status, help your kids engage in activities that provide a sense of contributing or belonging to their community, and growth towards being an independent person.
- Encourage generosity and thoughtfulness–helping others and being generous are two key ingredients for making grateful kids.
- Help kids find what matters to them–the deepest sense of gratitude in life comes from connecting to a bigger picture, to an issue that matters to others and doing things that contribute to society down the road.
(If you want some practical ideas, Froh and Bono’s book Making Grateful Kids has 32 concrete, scientifically-based strategies for encouraging gratitude in children.)
Three simple gratitude exercises for Christmas
- Say it. Set an alarm on your phone for 3-5 times a day. When it goes off, quickly name one thing each that you are grateful for at that time. What’s going well? What are you feeling thankful for right now?
- Give it. Choose a charity you feel thankful for. Are you grateful to the people at the SPCA for caring for animals in your community? Are you glad there are people helping the elderly in your area? Decide together how you can show your gratitude–it might be a financial gift, or an action.
- Write it. Ask your kids to choose a person they are grateful to: a friend, family member, favourite author, or teacher and write them an email to express their gratitude. (We’ve emailed thank-you notes to a number of our favourite authors and they usually email back which is exciting too!)
One of my favourite bloggers, Oh Amanda, has some great practical ideas too about helping kids have a giving attitude at Christmas.
I am personally very grateful to YOU for reading my little blog. I have had some wonderful, kind feedback this year. So, thank you and I hope you have a very merry Christmas! Remember to subscribe and comment below. It’s great to have you here.
Until next time,