Teaching Kids Gratitude When Opening Gifts

file0001487747257There’s nothing more mortifying when your child opens a gift and says something along the lines of, “I don’t like this”, throws the present down and resumes what he or she were doing in the first place. We’ve all been there, and since the holiday season is upon us, you may have experienced this recently. Breezy Mama turned to Certified Parent Coach, Elizabeth Pflaum, and founder of AAA Parent Coaching Services, for advice on what to do.

In trying to teach kids appreciation, what should we do first?
I find that often adults assume that children can automatically grasp complex concepts, such as gratitude, when they really need very specific instructions. To begin with, we can teach our children that simply the decision to give a gift is a generous act. We can help children to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into gift giving and ask them simple questions to help them better understand the concept. These lessons can be repeated as we get closer to the holidays, a birthday, or any other gift giving situation.

For example: “Can you tell me ALL of the things Grandma had to do to buy you that cool new fire truck?” Or, “Do you remember when you made Daddy that special picture frame for Father’s Day? That sure was a lot of work! Can you remember all of the things you had to do to make that frame? Weren’t you so happy to see how much Daddy loved it? When Grandma gives you your birthday present, I’ll bet she is hoping to see how much you will love it too!”

A child needs to show proper behavior when opening a gift—how can we explain this?
Next, we can teach our children exactly how to behave when they open a present in front of the giver. For example, we might tell them to smile as they open the gift and to say as many nice things that they can think of about the gift as they open it, followed by making eye contact and saying thank you, no matter what. Parents can help drive the point home by acting out exactly they way they want their children to behave. The cornier the presentation, the greater the likelihood that children will remember it. For example, if Grandma Tillie gives 5 year old Zoe a new winter jacket for Christmas, Zoe might say something like, “Wow! This jacket will keep me so warm! It is my favorite color! The fur on the hood is so soft. Thank you!”

For young children it helps to make up a game (“Let’s play open the presents!”). Parents might wrap up some items from around the house and challenge their children to make up as many nice things about the gifts that they can think of as they open them, and to help them to remember to smile, use a “happy voice,” and to say thank you.

Is there a best time to open gifts?
I would suggest trying to make sure gifts are opened at a time during the day when children are rested and likely to behave well. If parents expect that children will receive a gift, they might review the rules for opening presents a few times before gifts are actually given. If, for example, parents are driving to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas, they might play a version of the “Opening the Presents Game.” Parents can give children descriptions of different gifts, some that children might like, and some that they might not like, and challenge their children to say as many nice things as they can about each item.

In the event that children are just too tired, hungry, or cranky to behave appropriately when receiving a gift, parents might accept the gift and have children open it when they are more able to express appreciation.

Any other suggestions?
When children are actually opening the gifts, parents might call the gift giver on a speaker phone to allow them to hear the enthusiasm in the child’s voice as they open the gift, or photograph the child as the gift is being opened and then include the photos along with a thank you note and possibly a picture drawn by the child to express their appreciation.

headshotAbout Elizabeth Pflaum: Elizabeth is a certified parent coach, parent coordinator, educator, and mother of four.  She has appeared as a guest expert on various television shows, is an active writer and speaker, and works privately with parents and educational institutions.  Elizabeth’s areas of expertise include adoptive parenting, parenting children with learning, developmental, and emotional differences, co-parenting support for families of divorce, and creative parenting solutions.

Elizabeth is the founder of AAA Parent Coaching and can be contacted via phone: 914-358-6409  or email: liz@aaaparentcoach.com

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