Annie Keeling: The gift of gratitude | TheUnion.com

Annie Keeling: The gift of gratitude

Annie Keeling
Columnist

Gifts and children usually go together during the holidays. There is bound to be at least one instance of disappointment:

"Yuck. I don't want socks!"

"It's a black Echo Dot. I wanted a white one."

"I didn't get anything good for Christmas."

Children might resist showing gratefulness for a present, make entitled demands, throw a tantrum from disappointment, or have an emotional spin-out from overindulgence or over-focus on them. What to do?

An attitude of gratitude

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You've probably heard this catch phrase. The practice of gratitude and kindness can affect gift-getting difficulties and make a lasting impact on your family.

Change the Habit: Robert A. Emmons from the University of California-Davis has studied the practice of gratitude. He found that this can have a dramatic and lasting effect on a person's life.

"Gratitude not only makes people feel good in the present, but it also increases the likelihood that people will function optimally and feel good in the future," said Emmons.

Here are some tangible actions to build more gratefulness in your family.

Family Meeting: Gratitude is learned through modeling. At least once a week (more if making this a new habit), clear off the dinner dishes and have family time around the table.

Start with this structure:

Take turns who leads the meeting each time.

The person who is speaking holds a wooden spoon to remind others not to interrupt.

Have two rounds of sharing. This first is a round of gratefuls, where each person says something they are thankful for in his or her life. Then a second round could be Plan a Family Event. Each person makes a suggestion. The leader keeps track by writing (or drawing a picture) of each suggestion. The family decides on one and finds a time they can do it together.

Keep this part short (five minutes), so even the youngest child can stay engaged.

End with dessert/fruit or a game — or both.

Benefits include modeling gratefulness, autonomy for the child when it is his turn to talk or lead the meeting, close family connection, a place to each be heard, and a consistency of family planning and outings.

Family Values: At another family meeting, discuss and write down (or draw out) family values. Decide on four to seven and post where everyone can see them. For example: Help Others, Have Fun, Get Rest, Eat Good Food, Be Kind, Be Curious, Be Grateful.

Credit Report: Use descriptive praise to acknowledge positive actions that a child is doing. You can tag on a family value. This helps develop a positive culture in your family.

"You put your clothes on by yourself. You're being independent."

"You got ready for bed without complaining. That's respectful."

"You carried off your dishes. Your cooperation helps the whole family."

Grumbles or Grace: Do you complain and whine? Know that you are modeling that for your children if you do. We can look for the negative or positive in any situation. We can grumble about slights and events outside of our control. Or we can give a new meaning or interpretation to an event. Even if you are disappointed, model grace and gratefulness as you find a positive spin.

Too Much Abundance: Too many gifts can be overwhelming for small children. Put an excess of toys in a special box or chest.

Pick a certain amount — like one to three — to have out that day. At the end of the day, those toys go back to live in their special place (which might be kept out of reach), and the same amount is picked for the next day. (This also helps the house to be less cluttered.)

Kind, loving actions

In addition to kind thoughts and words, teach your children to complete compassionate actions.

Give hugs and show kindness to family members and pets.

Give a toy or gift to someone less fortunate.

Visit a retirement center and brighten someone's day.

Put small toys in a plastic bin and bury it in the sandbox at the playground for someone else to find.

Help a neighbor with a project or offer to clean something for them.

Help another family member by picking up extra duties around the house that you don't normally do.

Share your appreciation when your kids help around the house.

Try geocaching with your child. This is a recreational activity of finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website. When you find the treasure (usually a small box), put a toy inside it for someone else to find.

If there is a person on the sidewalk asking for food, hand him a granola bar or apple that you have in your bag. Be grateful for what you do have and share it with others.

Sponsor a child and develop a PenPal relationship.

Leave a nice note or sticky on the fridge to say I Love You and Thank You.

Good Things List: Help children write a list of all the positives in their life.

Gratitude Jar: Throughout the year, write out gratefuls on slips of paper and put them in the jar. At the end of the year, read them together.

Heartfelt Thank-You's: Draw a picture and mail it. Make a card or gift as a thank-you. Do something nice for the other person. Call the giver on the phone.

Grandparents and giving

Dear Grandparents: It is your job to help your children raise great children who grow into solid adults. And, hard as it is sometimes, your role is to support your adult children in the ways that they have chosen to raise their children.

When it comes to giving gifts, ask your adult child what they would or would not like you to give the grandchildren. This may feel like giving up some grandparenting control. And that's about right.

Grandparents, please ask your children for permission to buy expensive or numerous gifts for your grandchildren. Maintaining healthy relationships is far more important than the overindulgence of gifts.

While many grandparents are in the position to give grandchildren more than the parents, this can backfire.

The best gift you can give your grandchildren is the gift of your time. Set a date to take your grandchild on an outing. If you live out of town, make fun gifts.

Kids love looking at photos or videos of themselves. Make books, a DVD, or an online journal chronicling the previous year.

Put the brakes on overindulging children with expensive gifts. Carry out kind, loving actions. Speak of gratefulness and awareness of all that you have. Develop a habit of looking for the abundance and positivity in one's life. Model this for those around you. Children can learn and share this life-changing practice.

Annie Keeling of Grass Valley teaches parenting classes at The Nest. Connect with Keeling at annie@startsmallparenting.com or 530-210-1100.

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