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Teaching kids to be gracious

Worried your child is going to express dismay when she receives a pair of pajamas instead of an iPod from your great aunt? Help your children practice gratitude.

Few parenting milestones are as embarrassing as the first time your child openly expresses disappointment when receiving a gift. Be comforted by the fact that you’re not alone in experiencing this. Most kids struggle with expressing gratitude properly — and holding back on negative reactions to undesired gifts. This holiday season, do some prep work to avoid gift disasters.

Establish good habits early on

Start early and you’re more likely to raise a child who won’t fight you at every birthday and holiday when it comes time to write thank you notes. Teach your child how to write a holiday thank you note in an age-appropriate way, making sure your child is involved in the process from picking out thank you stationery to sticking stamps on the envelopes. As you work together, focus less on the actual gift the child received and more about how a thank you note will make someone feel, and how thoughtful it was of that person to give a gift in the first place.

Learn the do’s and don’ts of kid thank you notes >>

Set clear expectations at gatherings

When a child doesn’t express gratitude properly, it doesn’t mean the child is bad or spoiled. Most kids don’t have the social skills or perspective to understand gratitude on the level that adults and teens do.

Before a gift-giving event like a birthday or Christmas, explain the importance of being courteous… but be specific. Instead of telling your child to “be thankful,” clearly explain and model the behavior you expect. And don’t forget to thank your child and express your gratitude for his behavior! At holidays and birthday parties, give simple directions like asking your child to hug and thank a relative after opening a present.

Learn more about your kids through communication >>

Control the gift frenzy

It’s not uncommon to witness a kid unwrapping presents at warp speed, tearing the wrapping paper off and barely acknowledging the gift before proceeding to the next. It’s almost like children get in a frenzy when given a pile of presents. When kids are too young to slow down and express gratitude appropriately — and let’s be honest, this is basically every age during childhood — you may need to take control of the situation. Instead of letting kids set the present-opening pace, offer gifts one at a time and don’t move on to the next until your child has thanked the guest who gave the gift.

Prepare for occasional dismay

Gently role play the process of receiving a gift that isn’t at the top of the wish list. Discuss how negative reactions can hurt someone’s feelings. Come up with neutral ways to say thank you and work on holding back big negative responses. This will take practice, but your child will eventually learn to act appropriately, even if it takes her a while to truly appreciate the thought behind the gift.

More on gratitude

Parenting Guru: Raising grateful kids
Toy envy during Christmas
How not to raise a brat

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