I love the holidays! I spend the entire month of December planning fun experiences, making the house look festive, setting up fun activities… And every year I find myself fretting over how to make sure I’m cultivating a spirit of gratitude and giving in my family. There’s so much we’re all GETTING…what are we GIVING? 

This season tends to greet our kids with lots of advertisements, friends with the coolest new gadgets, and loads of extra treats – perhaps a recipe for entitlement? Fortunately, our kids come equipped with an innate sense of interest in others. They will naturally cultivate a sense of gratitude with our gentle guidance. Children watch the adults around them to build their understanding of what the holiday season is all about. 

Here are a few things I’m working on with my kids right now. We’d love to hear the ways you cultivate gratitude in your family as well.

1. Show Up with Gratitude in Your Words and Actions

Alfred Adler, father of Individual Psychology, said, “True happiness is inseparable from the feeling of giving. A sense of belonging can only be won by being involved, by cooperating, and by being useful to others. Out of this emerges a lasting, genuine feeling of worthiness.”

We want our children to experience true joy, especially during the holidays. Building on what Adler said, count all the ways you already cultivate a sense of happiness and self worth in your actions each day. Say thank you to each other, noticing the little things each person in your family does and appreciating them. Express gratitude for the privileges your family enjoys. Talk about and demonstrate simple acts of kindness and generosity. Engage your child’s imagination when it comes to appreciating their teachers, neighbors, coaches, and mentors. In this way, the best gifts this season will be opportunities to acknowledge, and appreciate the people around us. 

2. Tap Into Community

Experts believe there is a link between acts of service and mental health. This concept has been around since the early 1900s when Alfred Adler coined the German term Gemeinschaftsgefühl, which has been loosely translated to “community feeling” or “social interest”. He was the first to propose that the most direct way to care for our own mental health is to look outward and give care to those around us. 

This time of year is a great opportunity to bring our family’s awareness to the world around us. This exercise can be done with kids of any age.

Tapping Into Community Exercise

  • Make a list of the communities your family participates in
    (school, the neighborhood block, the surrounding town, religious groups, weekend sports club, local government, etc.) 
  • Notice all the things these communities provide – to your family and others
    (joy, exercise, a chance to participate, something to look forward to, food for the hungry, etc.)
  • Ask: What needs does the community have?
    (appreciation, new supplies, more volunteers, etc.)
  • Finally, make a list of ideas for ways to meet the needs of the community.
    (Write a thank you card for the leaders, volunteer for a shift, attend a planning meeting, etc.)

Social Interest is something innate in human beings. We don’t actually have to “teach” it, rather we simply need to “unlock” it by providing ample opportunities to let the creativity of our children lead the way. Be sure to listen to and write down ALL of their ideas, large and small – then, take action where you can! 

3. Talk About Donating Financially

By age 4, children can begin to understand the concept of money: how to earn it, how to save it, how to spend it. (Some families like to start with a simple allowance system using jars.) When it comes to giving money, explain why non-profit organizations depend on donations. Have a conversation about how your family plans to give charitably this year . Don’t be shy about this – children are naturally curious about money and it’s OK to talk about it with them!

Children also love making connections between things they are learning about and something they can do to help. Chances are, in school they are touching upon subjects such as environmental concerns, law-making, and humanitarian interests. Explain to them how giving money to organizations that are involved in these issues is a direct way to make an impact. 

As your children grow, this conversation can evolve to include more complex topics such as saving throughout the year, and vetting organizations to ensure your money is put to use in a way that aligns with your family’s values. Perhaps your family will come up with a way to choose together which organizations to give to. There is no right or wrong way to go about this – what matters is that you start the conversations, keep them lighthearted and fun, and be consistent between your words and actions. 

Happy Holidays!

This season, I’m trying to remember that gratitude and a giving spirit are natural expressions for each of us. When we start with that idea, we can partner with our kids in learning how to express generosity and gratitude in their own unique ways, and when they are genuinely experiencing the feeling.