REALITY CHECK: Have you taught your child an often overlooked and critical holiday skill for kids of how to show gratitude and appreciation even when you’re disappointed with what you’ve received?” The skill is one that can be practiced and is a simple but crucial habit that helps cultivate children’s empathy so they think about others, not themselves.
If you haven’t checked that calendar, here’s a word to the wise: in the next few days your child is going to be receiving a gift from someone. My question: Have you taught your child the skill of appreciation?
Here’s another way of putting it: “How well do your kids handle disappointment when that gift they are anticipating from Grandma, Uncle Fred or Sister Sue doesn’t meet their hopeful expectations?”
(Translation: the greatly-anticipated headphones from Grandma turns out to be a pink cashmere sweater. How does your child respond to your mother or worse yet, to your mother-in-law?)
The days are going by quickly, so here is a quick quiz to assess how your kids may respond to gift-receiving disappointment.
How Will Your Kid Handle Disappointment?
There is no way to predict how a child or teen will react, but just pretend for a minute. Get into the scene, and think about how your child just may respond:
Scene 1: Your teen is dying for a Smartphone, and expects it, and then opens the package from Great Aunt Edna who is sitting right there eagerly awaiting and discovers shaving cream and an electric razor. How do you think he’ll react?
Scene 2: Your adorable three-year old has been begging for that fancy dollhouse for weeks, thinks Grandma will be giving her the item, and then rips open her gift to find a winter coat and boots, how do you think she will react? (Remember: your mother-in-law is anticipating your daughter’s joy in receiving that raincoat and boots she spent hours shopping for).
Scene 3: If you’re unsure how your child might respond, then just think back to the last birthday party. How grateful did your child respond to each gift from a friend or relative?
If your blood pressure is accelerating as you visualize a potentially-embarrassing moment when your relatives arrive and eagerly await the gift-openings and your kids’ luke-warm responses, don’t despair.
Appreciation is a skill that can be taught. The art of tact, gratitude and gracefulness are learned, and there still is time to teach those glorious skills of how to appear appreciative before the relatives arrive with gifts for your kiddos.
The fact is, it’s easy for kids (and grownups!) to look grateful about receiving gifts they like, but it’s much harder for them to learn to accept an unappealing gift with grace. That’s why I strongly recommend a little rehearsal before the actual gift-giving exchange.
Just add this next little part to your holiday to do list:
“I will teach my kids to be appreciative–even if they’re disappointed with the gift.”
Believe me, this skill will come in handy the rest of your kids’ lives. Here are ways to teach kids appreciation:
3 Simple Ways to Teach Gratitude
1. Rehearse Appreciation
Teach your child how to accept gifts graciously by rehearing polite comebacks prior to the event.
A few gracious responses might be: “Thank you for this.” “I really appreciate it” or “Thanks. That was nice of you.” Sometimes “Thank you so much!” might be best.
Make sure to act out the appreciation role yourself. “Sometimes I don’t get what I hope for, but I try to make the person who gave me the gift happy.”
Younger kids can practice saying responses with their teddy bears or dolls. But remember: repeated practice is critical to succeed in mastering this skill. So please don’t wait until the night before to start those rehearsals and think your kid is going to be able to pull off appearing gracious under fire.
2. Help Your Child Imagine the Recipient’s Feelings
Set up a few pretend sequences and then role play with your child. For instance: “Suppose Aunt Helen is here right now. She spent a lot of time shopping for your gift because she loves you and hopes you’re happy when you open it. Pretend she’s watching you open that package. What can you say and do to let her know you appreciate her effort?
3. Stress and Expect Appreciation
Emphasize to your child that he doesn’t have to like a gift, but he must show his appreciation for the thought that went behind the giver’s effort. That point will take a lot of little chats and not one long marathon lecture. So start those little appreciation reminders now.
Be sure you’re putting more emphasize on “giving” and not “getting” over the holidays.
If your child is expected to “give” presents to others and spends his hard-earned pennies to purchase that gift, believe me he’ll understand the concept of “appreciation” a lot quicker.
Keep in mind, the price of the present is irrelevant: homemade gifts are glorious! The key is allowing kids to experience the joy of giving to others including wrapping the gift, taking time to think what to give, and shopping or making that item. Hands-on giving is always the best way to help a child understand how it feels to be the recipient of appreciation or disappointment.
Hint: If you’ve rehearsed and there’s still one of those embarrassing kid blunders when the gift-exchange occurs, remember there are always thank you cards. Just make sure your child is expected to write or draw his own thank you!
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
You can also refer to my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.
My new book, UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World is now in print, My goal is to create a conversation that makes us rethink our view of success as exclusively grades, rank and score and includes traits of humanity! It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching if we hope to prepare children to succeed and thrive in our global new world.