Christmas can bring uncontrollable levels of excitement, especially for the small people of the house. Counting down to the school holidays, then the big day itself, being surrounded by family and bombarded with presents – what’s not to love?
But because there are now usually so many gifts beneath the twinkling tree on December 25, children can quite easily become nonchalant, overwhelmed (not in a good way) and ungrateful. Kids ripping the paper off one parcel, before throwing it to one side and starting on another with barely a pause, let alone a thank you, can be horrible to watch.
“Christmas is the perfect time to give the gift of genuine appreciation,” says Dr Niraj Arora, a psychiatrist at Cardinal Clinic (cardinalclinic.co.uk). “This is not just for the presents you get – of course the big smile, huge hug and heartfelt gratitude are wonderful – but there is another gift we probably don’t think about, and that’s the modelling of appreciation to our children. And it stays with them for life.”
Here’s how to encourage your little ones to be more thankful this year…
Set expectations early
“If your children are young enough, set expectations early, so you don’t end up backtracking further down the line, telling them not to expect so much, or to be more grateful for what they have and are given,” says relationship counsellor Cat Williams, speaker and author of Stay Calm And Content No Matter What Life Throws At You (staycalmandcontent.com).
Appreciate the actual giving
“The transaction of the present to the child is much more than the material therein – it’s the recognition of a loving relationship – a moment in busy lives to celebrate the core of what makes us human. This really is a moment to savour,” notes Arora.
Talk to your kids about value
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Explaining why children should be grateful for any present they’ve been given is really important. If you’ve cut back on gifts, talk to them about it. “Don’t make it the fault of the children for ‘wanting too much’ – take responsibility for creating that situation and say that you feel it’s important to reassess how things are. It sets a healthy example if we can explain ourselves and our values,” adds Williams.
Gift everyday items
“Make normal items gifts as well,” suggests Williams. “New socks, for example, new pyjamas, a new toothbrush, a favourite chocolate bar or magazine… These are things you would buy anyway, but making them gifts sends the message that we are grateful for ordinary items, as well as ‘special’ ones.”
Get involved with the Christmas list
“It all starts with the Christmas list,” bubbles Arora. “Here is the perfect time to develop curiosity. Ask your child about what they want. Spend some time listening to why they want it, what it looks like, how it would feel if they had it, when will they use it? Live the anticipation with them. It’s like watching the trailer for the best film ever.”
Focus on feelings as well as excitement
“As the gift is opened and used, focus on your feelings,” Arora continues. “Share in the present together. This is the spirit of Christmas – affirming those bonds – children just want to feel loved and closer to those that love them. And that’s how they learn, in turn, to be truly grateful.”
Think about recycling
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“Encourage children to think about how many gifts they might like to receive, and then donate that many of their good-quality existing toys and books to a charity shop. If they come with you to drop them off, even better,” Williams advises. “While you’re in the charity shop, see if they can find items for brothers, sisters or other family members – it sends the message that good things don’t have to be brand new or full price, it’s the thoughtfulness of the item that matters.”
Be imaginative with your gift giving
“Make the process of finding or giving the presents more than the presents themselves,” Williams adds. “Organise a treasure hunt with questions to find the next clue – that way, it’s the finding the presents that’s the best bit, regardless of what they are. It’s even better if the treasure hunt is outside and you’ve concealed and carried some gifts with you, or hidden them somewhere.”
Give the gift of time
“Our time is the most precious gift we can give,” concludes Williams. “So, make that a present rather than a physical object. Perhaps give things that took time to make – something baked, or a home-made picture. Or you could write out a voucher for your time, doing something like going out for a meal, watching a show or a local football match.”
- Press Association