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By Jae Curtis
During the holiday season, it can be difficult to compete with shiny advertisements for your child's attention. Living in a material world isn't always easy, but stopping to count your blessings isn't only a great reminder of what truly matters—it can actually help you live a happier life.
A 2012 study published in the industry journal Personality and Individual Differences found that gratitude was one of the biggest predictors of life satisfaction, no matter the demographic. Help your kid learn to appreciate life's less tangible gifts—and keep the gimmes at bay—with these tips for teaching children gratitude.
Make it a Daily Ritual
Don't make the mistake of limiting gratitude to a once-per-year experience for your child. Making thankfulness a part of your regular routine gets your child thinking about the things she loves most about her life. It doesn't have to take much time: Simply writing or drawing in a gratitude journal and thinking up three things to be grateful for around the dinner table can make being thankful a habit, rather than a holiday tradition.
Model Appreciative Behavior
Teaching children gratitude will only work if you say thanks yourself. Children learn what they see, so if you're snippy with the store cashier or never tell your partner "thank you" after washing the dishes, your little one could learn that saying thanks isn't much of a priority for you—or her. "Kids learn through imitation. You model the behavior you want," notes parenting expert Jen Hancock. "This is just how polite interactions occur." This means making sure that you always say thank you, whether you're at the store or at home.
Flip a Complaint
The next time your little one whines about something, listen to her feelings and then challenge her to flip the complaint upside-down to come up with a gratitude statement instead. For instance, if your child complains that her playmate has better Barbies, have her find a toy that she's grateful for instead. If she whines about going to class, help her see how lucky she is to go to school by teaching her about the children around the globe who would jump at the opportunity, like 16-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Framing the experience in a new light will help your child develop a new way of seeing things.
Carve time in your schedule to give back; it's a beneficial and often easy way to inspire thankfulness in your child. "One way to teach children gratitude at the most basic level is by volunteering at soup kitchens, shelters, orphanages, nursing homes and letting your child work alongside you whenever possible," says psychologist Dana Klisanin. "When children experience the gratitude of others for basic necessities ... they are more likely to recognize and be grateful for these things in their own lives." Call your local city office building and ask for volunteer opportunities appropriate for kids.
Define 'Need' and 'Want'
When your kid gets a case of the gimmes, it's probably because she's forgetting the differences between a need and want. It's the ideal time to start a conversation on the things you're required to provide her and the things that are fun little extras. Try this exercise together: Create a posterboard with two sections, labeled "Wants" and "Needs." Then, page through a magazine together and cut out objects, gluing them to the correct side of the board. It's a quick way to remind your child—and yourself—which things you shouldn't take for granted.
Refuse to Respond
If your child is already suffering from a serious case of the gimmes, it's time to toughen up. Kids who want something might make demands instead of asking politely. The good news? Just because you're being ordered around doesn't mean you have to obey. When your child demands the latest "it" toy, simply refuse to respond until she asks nicely. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it helps your child learn that she'll get a better response with "Please" and "Thank you" instead of "I want this now!"
Spoiling your kid is fun—but putting your foot down can help you take advantage of an important teaching moment. Instead of simply spoiling your child, spoil with a purpose. If she's begging for the latest Disney princess doll, set a monetary goal and ask that she work toward it. If you're feeling really generous, offer to match her contributions. Then, have her do jobs around the house to earn the money. When she purchases something that she earned herself, she'll be way more grateful than if you'd simply brought it home from the store, no questions asked.
Gratitude Every Day
By making gratitude a serious priority in your house, you not only teach your family that "gimme" attitudes aren't tolerated—the appreciative behaviors you learn will help you stay more consciously grateful, which foster feelings of contentment and happiness. Model a grateful attitude, learn new ways to appreciate what you have, and make sure that your child sees you showing that gratitude. That way, you set the example that being thankful is a year-round kind of thing ... not just for November.