But that doesn’t mean your kid won’t be bummed when one of their wish list items doesn’t make the cut. If your child seems disappointed or ungrateful, it’s key for the stressed-out parent (who may have been up all night putting together that complicated My Pretty Pony Playhouse with the inadequate Allen wrench provided) to not blow a fuse. “It’s important to accept that’s how they feel,” says Doherty. “Don’t make the mistake of saying they should just be grateful for what they got or not feel envious. That’s like saying ‘Don’t be a child.’”
Even though you may not feel like hearing it before coffee on Christmas morning, the goal is for your child to be able to express his feelings and to learn how to deal with them. Fred Zelinger agrees that parents should talk about a child’s feelings of disappointment. “Talking always helps,” he says. “A parent has to be ok with any feeling the kids has. They have to be able to just listen. Don’t try to talk them out of the feelings. Just looking at the child and showing you understand is therapeutic.” Chances are, the kid will end up loving the toy or book or bag of socks they were disappointed in. (Actually, scratch that last one.)
Unhappiness can also ensue when your child compares her gifts with a friend whose parents went completely overboard with presents. In that case, it’s time for another little chat with your little one about coping with that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses feeling. “We set the tone for how kids respond,” says Londoño-McConnell. She suggests pointing out that, in your family, there are other important things that matter more than presents. Remind your child that the family spent an evening together baking cookies, playing in the snow or volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen. “Put it in perspective,” says Londoño-McConnell.
How to teach gratefulness
The antidote to ingratitude? Teaching your kid about giving as well as receiving. Londoño-McConnell suggests having your child pick out a gift for a less fortunate child and if possible, delivering it in person. Fred Zelinger recommends that if a child gets two gifts, he should pick out two to give away. “I would want the child to actually do that donating themselves—to go a firehouse or a toy drop or center, somewhere they accept a gently used item,” he says. “The act of giving teaches them gratitude.”
Studies show that expressing gratitude is key to lasting happiness. To help teach your child to be more thankful, Londoño-McConnell suggests “have the kids open gift one at a time and then thank that person if they’re present. A lot of times they don’t know who gave them what. That is another way for kids to take things in during the frenzy of opening presents.”
Instilling your children with gratefulness and appreciation helps them keep their expectations in check and enjoy the gifts they receive. After all, gifts are a bonus—not necessarily a given. “We want to work against the entitlement thing of ‘Hey, I’m a kid—the adults are providers of goods and services to me… and that’s their job,’” says Doherty. Adds Laurie Zelinger, “A gift is not something that’s deserved; a gift is something that someone wanted to give you.”
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