December after December, parents face the tears, tantrums, and demands that often accompany each new season’s onslaught of shiny toys and gadgets. The “it” toys may change from year to year, but whether the season’s hot item is the Tickle Me Elmo or the Zhu Zhu Pet, the same problems of entitlement and ingratitude seem to plague kids everywhere with each new Christmas.
What’s the cure for the gimmes? How can you teach your kids to be grateful rather than demanding during what should be the most wonderful time of the year? Read on for strategies to stop the gimmes.
Cut Back on TV
Prevent Christmas gimmes before they even start: limit your kids’ exposure to TV during the holiday season. Kids who see fewer glitzy commercials will be less likely to request expensive gifts that they might not enjoy in the long run.
“It’s definitely a problem TV plays a factor in,” says Dr. Marissa Diener, a professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Kids will see a commercial and think they want that toy when parents might look at the actual product being advertised and think, ‘Really?’ Kids don’t always understand that advertisers’ whole point is to sell a product.”
Diener also recommends that parents talk to their kids about advertising and help them understand that “the kids who look so happy on commercials are being paid to act that way. Help [them] understand that things on TV aren’t always as neat as they look.”
Instead of watching commercial-packed TV shows, opt for classic holiday movies such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Better still, get away from the TV entirely and build a snowman, make a gingerbread house, or find someone to serve.
Recent positive psychology research has focused on the practice of savoring— anticipating positive experiences, enjoying positive experiences in the moment, and then reminiscing on the them after they happen. According to psychologist Fred Bryant, savoring positive experiences can help make gratitude part of a person’s typical behavior. “We can all learn to enhance the quality of our lives through savoring. . . . With effort over time, you can cultivate an ‘attitude of gratitude’ that becomes a habit.”
“For little kids especially,” says Diener, “the biggest part of the Christmas experience is opening gifts. Help kids savor Christmas by wrapping each gift, and by slowing down the gift opening so that it takes longer and is a more meaningful experience.”
You can also promote savoring and gratitude in your kids by giving them the right kinds of presents. “Try to give kids experiential gifts rather than just material items,” said Diener. “You could give the kids a game that can be played with the family, or a gift that’s an outing or activity rather than a material thing.”
Set a good example by being grateful to anyone who helps you in any way. Wave to courteous drivers while on the road. Thank strangers who hold open doors for you. Make a point of acknowledging servers at restaurants and cashiers at the grocery store. And, most importantly, say thank you to your children whenever they do something kind or helpful. When your kids see this kind of behavior modeled consistently, they will start to develop good habits themselves.
You can give your kids hands-on gratitude experiences by having them make thank-you cards for friends and relatives. These may be made in response to gifts or acts of kindness, but you should also create a pattern of expressing thanks and affection spontaneously.
Diener also suggests that holding regular family prayers that express thanks is a great way to establish patterns of gratitude.
Teach Financial Responsibility
Teaching children about money will help them understand the value behind gifts and why buying new things isn’t always the best thing. “For older kids, Christmas can be a good time to teach about financial responsibility,” says Diener. “This will actually help kids appreciate their gifts more since they’ll understand that you have worked hard to get them.”
Encourage kids to earn their own money, even before they’re old enough to get a “real” job. Whether it’s through a paper route, vegetable picking, or simply doing chores around the house, earning and saving money is the best way for kids to learn appreciation for gifts from others.
But how should parents handle talking to their kids about finances? Simply explain that it’s not smart to spend more than you earn. Let your kids know you are happy to spend a budgeted amount on gifts, but that spending more isn’t a possibility. This will help kids learn to be budgeters themselves, and it will also help them understand that the amount of things you buy for them has nothing to do with how much you love them.
Serve With a Purpose
While most of us do spend a lot of time serving during the Christmas season, sometimes we forget the essential reason for doing so. Julie Hillman, a mother in Orem, Utah, has found that her children appreciate Christmas more when they have served someone—and even the youngest children can gain from it. “It is our family tradition to find someone or a family in need. Our children are involved in the process of picking out presents and wrapping them for the needy family. This has made Christmas more meaningful to my kids.”
After every school fundraiser or service-oriented church activity, be sure to discuss how giving service is the best way to follow Christ’s example and show gratitude for His gift to us. “True happiness comes only by making others happy—the practical application of the Savior’s doctrine of losing one’s life to gain it,” said President David O. McKay. “In short, the Christmas spirit is the Christ spirit.”
Kick-start your family’s month of Christ-centered service by watching the First Presidency Christmas Devotional with your family. The devotional can be found in print and video on the Church website, and the talks and music presented there will set a wonderful tone for the rest of the month.
You can also focus on Christ by including a nativity scene or a picture of Christ amongst the lights, wreaths, and candy canes that decorate your home. And don’t forget that even secular decorations are often symbolic of the Savior. The Legend of the Candy Cane, by Lori Walburg, is a fun folk story that gives new meaning to the candy cane. You can also research Christmas symbols on the Web (santas.net/christmassymbols.htm is one website with some great information). This way, everything your kids see at Christmas—from the wreath on the door to the red of Rudolph’s nose—will remind them of Christ, the perfect example of gratitude and love.
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