Ralphie: I want a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle.
Mother: No, you’ll shoot your eye out.
All around the world on Christmas day kids open their presents with gusto… and sometimes their responses are shocking and humiliating for their parents.
They don’t like the color.
They throw it aside without a word of thanks.
They say they’d rather have what brother got.
All this, right in front of everyone and you. Sometimes, let’s face it, Christmas ain’t so magical. The other morning I had a disturbing thought… what if all my children open their gifts, don’t say thank you, and act ungrateful? Entitled? Unappreciative?
As I was pondering calling the whole holiday off I realized… I haven’t ever told them exactly how I expect them to respond when opening presents. They’re still young and it’s not like Christmas happens every other Thursday.
(my darling offspring)
So I called my husband and told me we needed to talk to the kids every day leading up to Christmas about how we expect them to respond. And, particularly, how we expect them not to respond. So when I got home then I gathered my offspring around me like Mrs. Claus and had the following heart-warming conversation.
Me: “Kids, I know you’re excited about Christmas and getting new things, but I want to be clear about something.”
Kids: (Basically Ignoring Me)
Me: “When opening your gifts, the polite way to respond is to say ‘thank you’ or ‘I appreciate this’ or something like that.
Kids: (Basically Ignoring Me)
Me: “If you open a present and say something rude like ‘I already have this‘ or ‘Why didn’t I get what he got?‘… then I’m taking it away.”
Kids: (Turn to look at me in shock)
Me: “People work hard all year to earn money and they use that money to buy you gifts so I want you to be thankful people thought of you.”
Kids: “Don’t worry, we will say thank you! We will We will We will!”
So far, I’ve had this talk (or one very similar) every single day since it came to my mind. We’ve explored what it means to be grateful, but mostly… that it’s polite to say thank you and rude to complain.
The Crucial Conversation = How You Expect Them to Respond When Opening Gifts
Gratitude is a nebulous concept to small child. They know to say thank you and have manners, but learning to appreciate and be content… these are life lessons. Ones they learn bit by bit as they age. Ones that sometimes must be taught with consequences.
Children must understand what you need them to do before they understand why you need them to do it.
We teach our children to say thank you for gifts before they understand the meaning of appreciation. We teach them to use their manners before they understand the concept of being polite.
Kids Need to Be Told How to Respond
When children are little they tend to respond to situations with the limbic part of their brain – the part that controls emotional processing. Kids don’t yet have mature reasoning, so they feel something and go with it.
NOT THE RED PLATE!
I DON’T WANT TO EAT BROCCOLI!
SHE HIT ME SO I BIT HER!
This is the reason a lot of early childhood is spent teaching our children how to manage their emotions… so we can give their reasoning a fighting chance. We need to teach our kids the polite way (and the impolite way) to respond to gifts so they are able to draw on that when emotions are high.
Who can blame a child for being sad when they wanted a truck and got a sweater?
No one expects a child to be perfect, but we can expect them to hear, practice, and respond in a polite manner. In fact, we should expect them to do this. Children have a way of rising to expectations. If our expectations are low and there are no consequences for bad behavior then we shouldn’t be surprised to see bad behavior continue.
(my offspring in fake Christmas hats)
Christmas Day Won’t Change Normal Behavior
If your child struggles to express gratitude on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, they will not open up a gift they don’t like with a smile and a “Thanks, Uncle Bob” on Christmas. If they usually respond to disappointing news with a fit, tantrum, or backtalk then you may expect that during a present session as well.
Our kids don’t need to pretend they’re over the moon for something if they aren’t, we aren’t teaching our children to lie, but simply giving them acceptable ways to respond to generosity from others.
- A thank you.
- A smile and some eye contact.
- A hug to the giver.
Let’s Be Real With the Kids… Even on Christmas
We parents these days are often so “positive” that we’re scared to be real with our kids. We are scared to say things like, “Acting ungrateful in the face of someone who gave you a gift is a horrible behavior.”
We focus so heavily on saying, “We need to be appreciative and thankful and kind” that the kids don’t always realize what the opposite of that is.
It’s okay to tell our kids that gifts are not free. Labor is not free. We labor to have money and use money to buy gifts and if they don’t like them… we can get our money back.
This is not cruel.
This is not mean.
This is how you raise kids who don’t embarrass you at family Christmas.
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