Ever feel like the spirit of Christmas seems to be a little lost on your little ones? You’re not the only one! A few years back, one family “cancelled Christmas” in an effort to reduce the feelings of entitlement and foster gratitude in their household.
The idea of being The Grinch isn’t appealing, but I understand the sentiment. Here are some ideas for fostering gratitude and reducing entitlement this holiday period.
- Increase scarcity, reduce abundance
Feelings of gratitude come very naturally when there is scarcity…the issue these days is that there is typically abundance and our kids realise that! Try and reduce the feeling of abundance around Christmas by:
- Reducing the number of gifts you give your children – each additional gift is likely to dilute the ‘specialness’ of the others. You could adopt the ‘4 Gift Rule’ where you give them something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read’.
- Spreading out the opening of gifts – this will help kids appreciate each gift. It also applies to gifts received when you catch up with family and friends before Christmas – by allowing them to open the gifts as they receive them they are more likely to connect the gift to the person who gave it to them.
- Increase scarcity through the year – don’t buy everything your kids want. Wanting things and waiting for them will help them feel grateful when it comes to Christmas!
- Set limits and manage expectations
Be clear that Christmas doesn’t equal getting everything on your list. If you have older non-believing kids, you could talk to them about the cost of different items on their list and the need to weigh up getting one big thing (and not much else) versus a few smaller things. If you have smaller kids, you could explain that Santa needs to deliver presents to all the children and so he can’t give each child too many things!
- Foster Christmas spirit by giving to others
Remind our kids that Christmas is about giving (not receiving!) by taking the opportunity to give back to others. You could create a family tradition of volunteering your time to help others, or you could ask your kids to go through their toys and books and pick things to give to kids that are less fortunate. We’ve made it easy for you …
- Realise that being ungrateful is part of being a kid
In a Washington Post article the argument was made that being selfish and ungrateful is just a phase and that it isn’t any worse now than in past generations. The author, Alfie Kohn states “In short, ‘every generation is Generation Me. That is, until they grow up”. I liked this…in part because it made me feel a bit better about my own children! But also, with my psychologist hat on, it makes sense. Even fully-grown adults can feel a little bit ungrateful and entitled at times! Empathy, perspective taking, and the ability to act according to social norms doesn’t finish developing until we’re in our early 20s, so it is a lot to expect kids to regulate their own feelings and excitement to meet our grown-up expectations.
- Make gratitude a way of life all year
Given the abundance in our lives, gratitude won’t just appear on its own. Rather, it is a way of thinking that we need to foster in our children (& ourselves) all year round. There are lots of benefits for doing so; gratitude leads to happier, healthier, and more resilient kids and adults.
Gratitude isn’t just about our kids learning to say thank you though. The team at the Raising Grateful Children project have come up with a simple model – Notice-Think-Feel-Do – that helps take gratitude to a deeper level. This is how you can use it with your kids:
Notice: What have you been given or what do you already have in your life for which you are grateful?
One idea for developing this practice is a nightly dinner or bedtime ritual where each person shares one thing they are thankful for that day.
Think: Why do you think you received this gift? Was it because of something you did? Is it because of how that person feels about you?
Feel: Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What about the gift makes you feel happy?
Do: Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift?
Gratitude is one of the few things that have been found to alter happiness, and so daily gratitude practice is something you could also look to adopt as a New Years Resolution yourself!
An edited version of this article was first published at Sassy Mama on 15 Dec 2017.