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Gratitude is an important life skill to foster during the Christmas season. Before your kids open their Christmas presents this year, have this conversation with them about how to say, “Thanks.”
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,
- throw it aside without a word of thanks, or
- even 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, and don’t say, “Thank you”?
What if they all 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.
They are used to getting normal things they like so what if their Christmas presents don’t inspire a natural response of thankfulness?
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Here are some truths about thankfulness:
Kids Must Be Taught How to Respond when They Open Presents
When children are little they primarily respond to situations with the limbic part of their brain – the part that controls emotional processing. Their responses bypass the cerebral cortex (the reasoning part of the brain) and jump straight into emotional response.
This is why kids feel something and then go with it.
- They are blatantly honest,
- quick to tell what they don’t like, and
- don’t naturally possess empathy.
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.
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Who can blame a child for being sad when got a sweater but wanted a truck?
No one expects a child to be perfect, but we can expect them to respond in a polite manner. In fact, we should expect them to do this. Children have a way of rising to expectations.
You might say something like, “You might open a present you don’t really like. And that’s okay. You can tell mommy or daddy what you think about the present later, when it’s just us.
We don’t say ‘I don’t like that’ to someone who gave us a present.“
You can’t force your child to like something they don’t like, but you can teach them how you expect them to respond in any circumstance.
So, let’s get to the crucial conversation. Simple put, it’s how you expect them to respond when opening gifts.
Opening Gift Behavioral Expectations
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.
Lessons they learn bit by bit as they age. 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.
Children must understand what you need them to do before they understand why you need them to do it.
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.
Model and teach kids how to:
- Say, “thank you.”
- Smile and make eye contact.
- Respectfully handle the gift (not throwing it down, etc.).
- Express gratitude before moving on.
- Give a hug or high five to the giver.
By showing our children appropriate responses to gift giving, we give them a toolbox. If they open a present they aren’t wild about, they will remember what we’ve taught them.
This enables them to respond politely in the moment, even if their emotions are firing disappointment or dislike.
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By teaching our children positive responses we are giving them the gift of grace. They will be approached and the gift givers will enjoy the process of giving to them.
And, if you are like me, you might say, “Mommy keeps all presents that get complained about!”