How to Raise Thankful Children

How to help your children be thankful instead of contributing to the next entitlement generation.
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The holidays should be a time to reflect on our blessings, but when Santa brings up the rear of the Thanksgiving Day parade, he ushers in what sometimes feels like the season of getting.

Although most of us are able to provide our families with the basics of food, shelter and clothing, rampant commercialism surrounding the holidays can make kids feel deprived, even if their toybox is already overflowing. With easy credit and inexpensive toys made overseas, today's kids often don't want for anything – or at least not for long.

Parents seldom complain that their kids don't have enough toys, and those toys didn't all come from us. When the holidays roll around, grandparents, aunts and uncles like to buy gifts for the kids; add Santa to the mix and the present pile grows. Younger children especially can be overstimulated by all the toys, and as a result don't play with them for long. So what can we do as parents to help our children be thankful instead of contributing to the next entitlement generation? A few ideas:

Before the holidays, try doing a toy clean-out.
Help kids choose which toys they no longer play with and donate them to charity. 

Build charity into your holiday budget.
There are many organizations that collect new toys for children in need. Let your children help pick out a small gift and then take them with you to drop it off. Explain that not every child gets all he or she wants for Christmas. If they are old enough, encourage them to contribute some of their own money toward the gift. 

Do the same with food.
Explain that not everyone has enough to eat. The little ones won't quite get it, but you'll plant a seed. Consider volunteering with your children at a soup kitchen or with another group that feeds the hungry. 

Give the gift of "experiences."
If your children already have more than enough toys, consider asking grandparents and other relatives to give something different such as a holiday outfit or book. Another idea is to ask for "experiences" instead of toys, such as tickets to a holiday show. 

Encourage children to give presents.
This helps to shift the focus to giving rather than getting. No need to buy gifts – kids can draw a picture or make a simple craft for relative, or they could help bake cookies for the neighbors. 

Have them write thank-you notes.
These are appreciated, especially for out-of-town relatives who don't get to see your child open his or her gift. For the preschooler, you can write the note, then let them decorate or color the card. Older children can write their own cards. 

Please say "thank you."
It sounds simple, but teaching basic manners at a young age makes a difference. They may only do it when reminded at first, but eventually it will become a habit. 

Start family traditions that focus on your blessings.
One fun idea is to make a list of the things they are thankful for. This can be done in the form of a craft, by having them make or color a "thankful tree" (draw a tree and write the things for which they are thankful on the leaves), or a "thankful turkey" (write on the turkey's tail feathers). 

Encourage thankfulness year-round.
At dinnertime, try going around the table and having everyone mention one thing they are thankful for. Charities often say that they receive many contributions during the holidays, but they need help the rest of the year as well. Continuing charitable giving after the holidays is a good way to remind our children and ourselves of all the things we have that are worth appreciating.

Tiffany Guerzon is a freelance writer and the mother of three children.