Teaching good character to our children is one of the hardest jobs we have as parents. Gratitude is something that begins slowly and the concept of thankfulness or gratitude needs to be reenforced often in order for it to stick. One of the ways that I have found very effective in instilling gratitude in my children is to play a little game.
I like to play this game with them a few weeks before Christmas or one of the kids’ birthday in order to remind them what kind of response is appropriate after they receive a gift and in order to give them the opportunity to practice this skill in a relaxed environment. The chaos and excitement of Christmas morning is not the best time to effectively teach your child this character skill!
I cut pictures out of catalogues beforehand of things that my kids would NOT want to receive as gifts and put these in envelopes. For the game, we all sit down and we pretend that a particular person gave this present to them. We then practice their response. As an example, I may pass them an envelope with a picture of a blender in it and tell them that it is from their grandma. They then have to thank the person who gave it to them BY NAME. This part is very important as in the flurry of activity during gift opening, the child often does not even know which gift came from which person. Acknowledging the person by name not only reminds the child who gave them the gift, it also makes the gift giver feel recognized.
After thanking the person by name, they have to say one comment in reference to the specific gift. The rules are that the comment must be TRUE and KIND. I want to also instill the character quality of honesty in my children, so I do not want to train them to lie about liking a gift that they do not like. But we practice things that they can say that are TRUE and KIND.
For example, when my boys are “given” a Barbie (a picture of one in the envelope), they might say, “this will be good for me to play with my sister”. If “given” a kitchen appliance, they might say, “I’ve never used a blender before. Maybe now I can learn to make a milkshake.”
Make sure to include pictures of things that are outrageous so that the game stays funny, but also include things that they probably will receive such as socks and homemade sweaters. Younger kids will need help in coming up with what to say, but the more practice they get, the better they will get at thinking of things themselves.
By practicing this game with your kids, you will help them to learn to express their gratitude and giving sincere responses when opening gifts.