Tis the season to be giving and grateful… while being bombarded with commercials, ads, sale signs and big bows on cars, parents may find it a little disarming to figure out how to teach their kids how to be grateful yet also not materialistic.
If the children are chanting, “I want that,” with almost everything they see, Brandman University social work professor Catherine Pearlman, LCSW says it’s to be expected.
But never fear — here are suggestions to help children learn empathy and gratitude.
Pearlman emphasizes these feelings have to be learned as it’s normal for kids to not be born being grateful or thankful, but that the holiday season is ripe with opportunities for parents to build in fun teachable moments.
Holidays are a great time to model gratitude. Make sure your children hear you say, “thank you,” and have them see you write thank-you notes, write their own or help someone when they’re down.
“I think gratitude is contagious,” Pearlman said. “And when parents model being grateful, kids learn how to say, “please and thank you,” so much better. We must be always doing things to show them that despite our circumstances, we can be grateful in lots of different ways for all the things we do have.
Pearlman also suggests to talk about money and not be afraid of those hard conversations if finances are a burden.
“Too often we shield our kids from the stress and burdens of finances,” she said, adding that parents don’t need to share the stress, per se, but an understanding of the value in a gift is a worthwhile lesson.
“We can give them an idea of trade-offs, too,” she said. “While being grateful, if we go out tonight we have to say: ‘We can’t afford to go tomorrow.’”
Volunteering is also a great way for children to get their mind onto giving instead of getting.
“A personal experience can help children realize they can make a difference, no matter that the theme,” she said. “It’ll make them feel good and they’ll want to do it more. It’s not that easy to find volunteer options for children, but volunteering at all really helps children feel good about helping others.”
Travel is also a good option. Memories can be irreplaceable compared to toys, she said.
“Less is really more, and parents don’t always realize this or do the best job at conveying this,” she said. “Giving the kids the gift of experiences, from a trip down the street or a trip overseas can really matter more to opening their minds, as well.
All-in-all, the best gift can be to teach children how to give “year-round thanks,” she said.
“The holiday tradition of going around the table talking about what we’re all thankful for is certainly a window into what our children are thinking,” she said. “Use holiday opportunities to show – not tell – your kids about grateful behaviors. Bringing to life how you live, and how that is different from others, is an important tangible experience.”