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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 12/20/2012

Give a little gratitude this holiday season

Are your children grateful? And by ‘grateful,’ I don’t mean ‘trained to say thank you for things without having to be reminded.’ I mean really, truly grateful for their good fortune.

In my case, that answer is sometimes. There are times when I feel like my two children have a real appreciation for simple things: hot cocoa after playing in the snow, a family game night or playing on their swingset in the dark. They’ve been known to declare, “This is the best day ever!” on these occasions, and it makes my heart soar.

Then, of course, there are the times when they seem completely ungrateful: when, 15 minutes into a first-ever trip to the Magic Kingdom, one started whining about how boring it was because she wanted to check out the hotel pool. Or when they complain that they don’t like their new school clothes. Or when they turn their noses up at dinner, after I specifically plan it around their likes and dislikes.

Serenity now.

I tell them all the time: You’re lucky to have nice, new clothes. Some kids don’t have anything to eat. I never got to go to Disney World when I was a child.

To them, I probably sound like the adult voices in a Peanuts holiday special. And honestly, I kind of feel like Charlie Brown in this scene from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”:

When I was speaking with experts for this week’s Local Living cover story on gratitude, they made it sound so simple. Model gratitude for your children, they said (check). Take time each day to express gratitude with them (needs work). Limit their presents during the holidays (epic fail).

Christine Carter, of the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley and author of the blog “Raising Happiness,” acknowledged that while it sounds simple, parents are paddling upstream.

I can spend all day preaching minimalism and telling my children that relationships are more important than things, but when they are constantly bombarded with consumerist messages, we end up back at that Charlie Brown grownup voice. I’m not sure my voice is loud enough to drown out the marketing machine.

“You can only intercept so many American Girl catalogs,” Carter said. Her advice: Don’t put too much emphasis on the gifts. Don’t make a big deal about getting stuff or not getting stuff, because gifts are going to happen, she said.

If you de-emphasize them, though, and focus on other aspects of the holidays or life, you will be sending your children a message that presents aren’t important. They will focus on what you focus on, she said.

So I’m taking a deep breath, trying to carve out more time in the day to talk to my children about simple things such as stars and sunsets and all of the wonderful people in their lives. I’m asking them to make lists of what they want to give instead of what they want to receive. And I’m paddling.

How are you teaching your children to be grateful?

Related content:

Chat today with Christine Carter at noon

Give your kids the gift of gratitude this holiday season

Teaching children how to say thank you

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 12/20/2012

 
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