Teaching Children | Family Values | Thanksgiving

How to Teach Kids Family Values

Let’s begin with gratitude.

by Jeanne Sager

November 23, 2009

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Cake time came and went, followed by pin the tail on the donkey and bat the piñata around Dad’s head. And still, I waited.

My daughter was eyeing the Sesame Street wrapped package she’d proudly placed on the far edge of the present table. The tangled wad of tape where she’d “helped” just barely covered the word “dinosaur.”

“When is present time?” I whispered to the lucky little boy’s mom. She looked aghast. “Um, we don’t want Little Timmy [name changed to protect the rude] to look at his birthday like it’s all about the gifts,” she said. “You know, we prefer him to value giving over receiving.”

Thus heralded my introduction to the “no opening gifts” party, to be followed as my daughter entered preschool by a steady mix of more of the same, interspersed with the “no gifts, please bring a donation to [insert your charity here].”

I admit I’d prefer a little bit of value for receiving. I have yet to receive a thank you note from one of those parties. It turns out raising a giving child doesn’t naturally beget raising a thankful one.

“You would think they go on the same empathy line,” says Amy Dworetsky, a child psychologist who works with adolescents in upstate New York. “But look at it developmentally, and forcing them to give is going against every developmental thread in their body. Kids under five are very egocentric. They’re me, me, me.”

In other words – they aren’t learning to enjoy or even value giving. They’re doing it begrudgingly.

Thank you, on the other hand, is something that can be taught from a very young age and quickly becomes second nature. Research shows the feeling it implies – gratitude – will follow, but does not become a fully developed part of a child’s personality until age five or six.

“For children and parents, receiving should not be about the actual receiving but rather about learning the delicate skill of being gracious,” says Megan Jordan, a mother of three from Gulfport, Mississippi and editor-in-chief of BlogNosh. “So what if your kid has a million toys and you’d rather her guests donate to the Humane Society? I’m betting your kid could use some honing of her ‘receiving’ skills. And yeah, that may mean receiving her fortieth My Little Pony. Deal with it, kid. And do it by showing gratitude and thankfulness even though you already have nine of that color.”

Jordan is aware her kids are still young, but she is attempting to give her elder children – boys, three and five – early cues to balance out materialism. It’s not about the object received at a holiday, she tells them, but the fact that someone was kind enough to give it.

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