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Teaching Children Gratitude During the Holidays

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happy child girl with gift box

Every year around the holidays I attempt the impossible. I want to gift my children generously but not overindulge. I want to get them exactly what I know they want but somehow incorporate a lesson in appreciating what we have. Even though my two aspirations are completely opposite, I still struggle with this at every gift-giving holiday.

We celebrate Chanukah in my house and it’s a huge challenge with eight straight nights of celebrating to weave-in a message like, “We have to think of other kids who may not get any presents at all.” My two boys are five-and-a-half and four and at this age, it’s easier for them to deal in concrete images rather than hypothetical children they’ve never seen or met. In the past, I’ve tried not giving a gift the last night of Chanukah. I tell them we’ve made a donation instead to help other children who may not have gotten any presents this year, but I don’t think they really understand the message behind this gesture.

Like most parents I know, my husband and I want to share in their excitement when they open their presents. It’s easy to remember a piece of your own childhood joy at getting gifts when you see it reflected back in your own children. As important as it is to me to raise happy children, it’s equally important to me not to overdo it. I know it’s normal, but it pains me to see me my children immediately forget about the toy they received the night before in favor of the newest offering. I worry that I’m teaching them to appreciate fleeting things more than the bigger picture of being part of a loving, healthy family with a roof over our heads and plenty to eat.

At the same time, I’m also the mom who, when her child mentions a toy he loved playing with at someone’s house, will rush out to get that same item. Part of me wants my children to just be happy, even if that means through extra sweets and toys because there really isn’t much else that can top those two things for them. But there’s a huge guilt factor if I let them binge too much on junk or one-time toys.

This year my husband and I tried a different approach to help keep everyone’s spirits in the right place. Instead of gifts to open every night, we aimed to give them experiences as well. Since Chanukah overlapped with Thanksgiving, we had several big extended family celebrations where the kids got to stay up late and play games with the grown-ups. On another night we took them to a waterfront restaurant not too far from us on the southeast coast of Florida where you could toss bait to giant tarpon fish who literally jumped out of the water for the food. For little boys this is almost as exciting as a live samurai battle and was absolutely a highlight of the holiday. My hope is that when my kids look back on any celebratory occasion, they’ll remember good times and being surrounded by people who love them and not if they got the latest and greatest gadget.

I’m hoping this is a jumping-off point for more celebrating and less flash-in-the-pan gift giving. I’m not saying we’ll whittle it down to no gifts and just hanging out time in the future, but it was easier than I expected to not over-gift. As long as the kids felt that it was a special, out-of-the-ordinary evening, they were happy and content with that.

I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with for the next big gift-giving occasion when my older son turns six in a few months.

This holiday season how do you plan to reconcile your aspirations with your gifting inclinations? Is it possible in your family to give less and get more?

By Robin Saks Frankel

3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Lovely post! We are celebrating our first Christmas with our little boy, so it’s a bit easier for us at the moment not to overdo presents since he’s bit young to be aware of what’s going on. Honestly, I think he’s getting one thing from us. The grandparents are having a harder time even though we told them he didn’t have to get anything.

    I like the idea of giving experiences. Moments like those have lasting memories.

  2. avatar
    Joanna Drowos

    This is a difficult balance – thanks for talking about it. We love the experiences too – 8 nights is tough! Went to Disney for 2 nights, fun with family and friends, etc more than gifts. And yes – we always volunteer around the holidays – donate food, bake cookies- etc. It’s tough!

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