Part of the magic of the holiday season, for kids and adults alike, are the moments when children open gifts that were purchased or created just for them. Gifts are a way to connect with someone through giving and to hopefully bring joy to their lives.

Watching kids express surprise and delight when they receive something can brighten the moods of everyone in the room. But more than this, most adults want children learn how to feel grateful about the gifts they receive and to express this to those who take the time to give.

But what if your child opens a present and looks confused or disappointed? What if thoughtless words tumble out of your child’s mouth, instead of an enthusiastic “thank you?” Parents may not consider this scenario until after it happens, when it’s too late to coach kids through the appropriate response. Below are some tips to help prepare your children to receive gifts with gratitude this holiday season.

Teaching Kids to Appreciate Thoughtful Gestures

For many parents, nothing is more frustrating than when your children are critical of a gift they receive. On a basic level, when someone receives a gift, the appropriate thing to say is “thank you.” Not necessarily for the gift itself, but for the act of giving. For young children, we might leave it at that! Before gift-exchanging occasions, remind your kids that people give them gifts to show they care, so they should always be thanked for the meaning behind the gift, no matter what it is. Whether your child loves a present or not, someone took the time to purchase or make it, wrap it and deliver it, with hopes of sharing joy with them. Encourage your kids to thank the gift-giver and think about the meaning behind the giving of gifts. This conversation can get more detailed as they grow up. Starting in Elementary school, children begin to understand the concept of kindness and generosity, and therefore, can have more in-depth conversations about giving.

Kids may not realize that there are always nice things to say about a less-than-perfect present. Explain that they don’t have to be untruthful and say they love it, but they shouldn’t express their distaste, either. Teach them how to find something honest and positive to say about any gift, so that the gift-giver will feel appreciated.

Help your kids brainstorm ways to react positively to uninspiring gifts, in case they receive one. What if someone gets an unappealing hand-knit sweater? Maybe it’s your child’s favorite color. Maybe it feels warm and cozy. Maybe it looks like it took a long time to make. You can practice thinking of thoughtful things to say about store-bought presents, as well.

Why Gratitude Matters

When families practice gratitude year-round, kids may be more likely to automatically thank people for holiday gifts.

Practicing gratitude means thinking about, and talking about, things in your life that you’re thankful for. Kids can be grateful for any number of things that don’t come in festive wrapping paper, like home-cooked meals, caring friends or pretty sunsets. They can also be thankful for presents that they receive throughout the year and during the holidays.

Talking about gratitude often can help your kids to grow up feeling more appreciative of what they have. Research shows that people who practice gratitude regularly are more likely to 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.

It’s also an effective way to help your children recognize acts of kindness, which may impress the gift-givers in their lives.

Don’t wait until the holiday season to talk about feeling grateful. Even in difficult times, there is always something to be grateful for. People who recognize this personally feel the benefits and in turn, help spread kindness to those around them. Isn’t that what the holidays are really about?