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How to Raise Grateful Kids

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Dear Catherine,

As someone who LOVES the holidays, I can't believe I'm writing you! The decorating, the shopping, the cooking, the eating ... I love all of it, and having a daughter to share it with has only made it better. But here's the thing. My daughter is now 8 years old, and I'm starting to think all of this holiday cheer may be taken for granted. It's not like she's always begging for toys, it's more like she doesn't realize that she's a lucky kid.

After all, I grew up with not a lot (or not as much as she did) so I know she's lucky. It's a nonstop party in our house from Halloween to New Year's Day. She asks Santa for a toy, she gets it. Lucky, right?

I'd just love to figure out a way to make her grateful, or to realize how lucky she is, without putting a damper on the holidays. I'm guessing the French have no problem with this, right?

Signed,

Santa Mom

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Dear Santa Mom,

Beh umbug! (That’s me trying to make "bah, humbug" sound French.)

While I think it’s admirable that you want your daughter to appreciate what she has, my impression from your letter is that you may be overanalyzing things from the helicopter mom cockpit.

I’m with you and your kids, and I love the holidays. As an adult, I’m so grateful to my parents who somehow (for all 13 of their children) made magic happen every year.

There are certainly spoiled kids with entitlement issues in France, but I did notice, for the most part, that French children don’t expect the same obscene quantities of loot that many American children count on at Christmas time. Inspired by this, I decreased the amount of presents Santa brings to my kids. Amazingly, they didn’t really seem to notice, and, even more surprising, my daughters end up putting more value on the smaller amounts of gifts they do get. I recommend this to any parent overwhelmed with the sheer mass of junk that the holidays bring. While this is certainly a place to start, I don’t think it speaks to the heart of your letter.

It can be confusing for children to be given a ration of guilt along with their piles of toys and treats.

I struggled with ways to make my kids feel grateful at the holidays, too, and I’m afraid that most of the times I pointed out how lucky they were, I did it in a way that shamed them. Perhaps it's because I was always most forceful about it just when they were approaching the zenith of holiday glee. Certainly not what I was after. It can be confusing for children to be given a ration of guilt along with their piles of toys and treats. Comedian Eddie Izzard knows exactly what I’m talking about.

About a year-and-a-half ago, a good friend asked if he could bring my daughters, then ages 6 and 8, to work with him at a soup kitchen for a few hours. It’s really a "community supper," and volunteers spend a couple of hours cooking and setting up before the doors are opened to anyone in need of a hot meal. Volunteers are then invited to sit down and eat with those who have come in for dinner.

My kids’ introduction to the soup kitchen took place during the summer, but the effect on their feelings of gratitude and privilege was long-term. My advice to you is to refrain from nagging your girl about how fortunate she is throughout the holidays, but rather do something with her so that she can see for herself what she has.

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These days, my oldest daughter insists that we take her to volunteer at the community supper every month. She has even opted to serve supper over attending birthday parties or swim dates. I could never have said anything that would have carried the same power.

In short, do cool stuff throughout the year that helps others and reminds your daughter that she’s got it good, and let your girl enjoy the holidays.

Joyeux Fêtes!

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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