This time of year—with Hanukkah around the corner—is typically a tough one in my house. My kids get very excited when they see commercials about all the cool new toys coming out for the holidays. They start brainstorming about all the awesome things they want to get as gifts, and my daughter even had the chutzpah this year (even before Halloween!) to start a Hanukkah wish list to send to her grandparents. OY…
So how does a reasonable parent keep this in check? How do we teach our kids to temper their desire for more STUFF, and have an appreciation and gratitude for all of the stuff and blessings that already exist in their lives?
With Thanksgiving approaching, this is the perfect time to explore your family’s culture and beliefs around gratitude. Here are three ideas to think about:
- Separate “wants” from “needs”
We’ve all heard a child in the aisles of Target whining: “But Mommy, I NEED it!” One step your family can take during this stuff-heavy time of year is to explicitly separate “wants” from “needs”. In her book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee”, Wendy Mogel speaks about this concept: “Let’s look at a short list of things that children are fully entitled to: respectful treatment, healthful food, shelter from the weather, practical and comfortable clothing, yearly checkups at the pediatrician and the dentist, and a good education. Everything else is a privilege.” Keeping this in mind, a parent can help a child reality-check by specifically asking, “Is this a WANT? Or is this a NEED?”
- Recognize that it’s normal to WANT
Our human brains are wired to want things that give us a sense of fulfillment, whether it’s a new American Girl doll or a bigger and shinier flat screen TV. I want my children to grow up with a well- regulated desire for MORE, and at the same time I don’t ever want them to feel shame for this feeling. We use the “wish list” strategy often in our family: Whenever one of us feels a WANT bubbling up, we say: “Wow, that ___ IS really cool. Let’s put it on your birthday wish list.” My kids understand that just because it goes on a wish list does not mean that they’ll get it. In fact, more often than not they DON’T get it. The more important point is that the “want” was acknowledged and normalized, and then we move on with our lives.
- Create a gratitude practice
There are a million creative ways that your family can incorporate a gratitude practice into your daily life. Do a search on Pinterest for “Gratitude and children” and you’ll come up with lots of inspirational activities. Here are just a few to get you going:
Three roses and a thorn – Every night at dinner, each family member gets to share 3 positive events and one negative aspect of their day. You can also pose the simple question, “What were you grateful for today?”
Gratitude journals – Brain researchers have identified that there’s a significant positive impact on brain functioning in those that have a daily gratitude practice. This can be as simple as a spiral notebook where you and/or your child writes down one thing every day that they’re grateful for. If you want to get fancier, there are gratitude journals and even a Smart phone app you can use to document daily blessings.
Gratitude activities – with Thanksgiving around the corner, you can plan a fun activity with your family to explore all the things you’re grateful for in your lives. Here’s a page full of fun games and activities to think about.
Is there a tradition or ritual in your home that helps cultivate gratitude? What are some fun ways that you teach gratitude to YOUR children? Share in the comments below!
For further reading:
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee – by Wendy Mogel, PhD.
The Gratitude Diaries – by Janice Kaplan
The Book of New Family Traditions – by Meg Cox
The Thankful Book – by Todd Parr
Gratitude: A Journal – by Catherine Price
Lauren is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, parent coach, child development guru, writer and mom. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband (David) and two children (Maya and Jacob). Her website contains more information about her parent coaching services: www.familytoolkitcoaching.com.