The gift-giving season is upon us, and this can be a particularly challenging time for kids of all ages. Many youth and teens have lofty expectations not only of the types of gifts they will receive, but also of the kinds of gifts they can give. As parents, one of the most important lessons we can instill in our children is that the measure of a gift lies with its personal meaning rather than its extravagance.
When receiving gifts, it’s important for kids to understand that the gift giver spent time, effort, and, at times, money, finding that gift, wrapping it, and delivering it. That effort should transcend the material of the gift itself. To take this even further, kids should be taught that the most important thing the gift giver has provided is a reason to show gratitude.
University of Miami psychologist, Dr. Michael E. McCullough, together with Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, have conducted extensive research on the benefits of gratitude. In one of their studies, they asked one group to write down all the things they were grateful for over a specific period. They tasked another group with writing down everything that annoyed them during that same period. They had a third group simply write down events that affected them irrespective of whether those events were positive or negative.
The result was startlingly clear. The group that wrote down what they were grateful for had a better outlook on their lives, felt better, exercised more, and had fewer trips to the doctor than the other two groups. Other researchers have shown that people who practice showing gratitude on a regular basis feel happier and more energetic, have a better self-image, have stronger ties to family and friends, sleep better, and have stronger immune systems.
One time-tested way to encourage your children to practice gratitude is making sure they write Thank You notes to anyone who gives them a gift. According to research published in Psychological Science, Thank You notes make both the letter writer and recipient feel more positive and help strengthen personal bonds.
A second means of helping your kids practice gratitude is having them keep a “gratitude journal.” Like the above-mentioned study, have them keep a running log of the things that they are grateful for. Then, at various points throughout the year, have them revisit their journal, reminding them of all the good things that they have experienced.
Additionally, helping your child become a better gift giver can also help develop in them a stronger sense of gratitude. Having them make gifts for others will ensure that they are emotionally invested in the process and more thoughtful of the person for whom they are making the gift. When this isn’t possible, you might want to ensure that the gifts they buy are bought with money they have earned. Having them budget a portion of what they earn throughout the year or providing them with opportunities to earn money for gifts will help kids attach a stronger sense of value, not only to the gifts they give but also to the ones they receive.