You may already know that gratitude and kindness are helpful for your child’s mental health. But how do you hold on to that during a busy holiday season? And how can you help your children learn to be thankful when they receive a gift that’s not to their liking or not as great as what they see someone else get?

Practicing Gratitude

Building good habits of talking openly about what you’re grateful for as a family is a good place to start. Studies show that people who practice gratitude regularly experience mental and physical health benefits including:

  • Feeling happier and more energetic
  • Thinking positive thoughts about themselves
  • Having strong ties to family and friends
  • Getting better-quality sleep
  • Having stronger immune systems

You can make gratitude a regular part of your family’s life by keeping a gratitude journal (where you write down a few things every day that you’re thankful for), having a gratitude jar (where family members write down notes that they’re grateful for and place them in the jar; when it gets full - read them together), or just making a regular practice of talking about things you’re grateful for and encouraging each other to name things that they’re grateful for.

You may want to encourage kids to think of different things each day rather than always being thankful for the same thing. You can even have different themes – today we’ll think about people we’re thankful for, tomorrow it will be foods we love, etc. Your kids may have fun ideas for topics!

Gift Giving and Gift Receiving

If your holidays involve gifts, you may want to talk to your children in advance about gift giving and receiving.

For many parents, it’s frustrating when your children are critical of a gift they receive. Make sure you talk about saying “thank you” when they receive a gift. You may want to remind them that it’s not about the gift but that someone thought of them and took the time to give them something. For young children, we might leave it at that!

For older children, before gift-exchanging occasions, remind your kids that someone took the time to purchase or make it, wrap it and deliver it, with hopes of sharing joy with them. You might ask them what kind of response they like to get when they give a gift. Conversations around gracious acceptance of gifts can get more detailed as they grow up.

This time of year is a natural time for families to talk about how much fun it is to make or pick out and give gifts to other people. Giving can be a great way to form positive relationships and feel good about yourself. Ask your kids who they want to give gifts to and help them come up with ideas. It can also be a reminder that gifts don’t have to cost money – coloring a picture, helping to make cookies or singing a song for someone can be a present.

Keeping Kindness Front of Mind

The holidays are a great time to talk to kids about kindness. And you can look for opportunities to turn talk about kindness into action. Many charities offer opportunities to volunteer. It can also be as simple as taking food to an elderly neighbor or helping out a friend. Talk as a family about opportunities to be kind and decide on something you’d all like to do together.

And let’s not forget that being kind to yourself is also important to your mental health. Talk to your kids about how you’re taking time for yourself and for your mental health this holiday season. This could be seeing old friends that you love, taking time for yourself in the morning or evening, or enjoying a family tradition that helps you feel connected to your family of origin. Ask your children what they would like to do to relax (such as coloring, family movie night, playing a game, etc.) and find time to allow them to do that.

The holidays can be a busy time of year with so much going on! Taking the time to express gratitude and talk about kindness may help make it a little more enjoyable for you and your family.