Cheatsgiving: 8 Simple Ways To Teach Your Kids That Gratitude Is More Important Than Gifts

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You’ve been hearing Christmas music since the day after Halloween. Your kids have either already finished their Christmas lists or have done away with lists entirely, instead just shouting “I want that!” at every commercial or Toys ‘R Us flyer that arrives in the mail. Thanksgiving, just around the corner, has somehow morphed from a day of, you know, giving thanks to a capitalist “Hunger Games” in which you are expected to fight sleep deprivation and crowds of angry strangers for all the best toys.


How did this happen? And more importantly, how do you make it stop? Instead of surrendering the entire contents of your savings account along with your dignity this year, check out these suggestions for focusing your family on the real meaning of the holiday season: gratitude and generosity.

 1. Recognize what you have.

Before young children can be grateful for what they have, they may need some help understanding that what they have is not necessarily the norm. Affluent or middle class children in America—with their own large bedrooms, closets full of clothes and shoes, and entire rooms’ worth of toys and books—may not realize that not every child is so lucky. Perusing photographer James Mollison’s 2010 book Where Children Sleep, which includes photos of children from around the world and their bedrooms, along with brief stories about their lives, is a great jumping off point for this kind of conversation. Many of the photos are also available online. As you discuss the photos with your kids, try to emphasize the differences they notice rather than labeling the various children’s lives as “better” or “worse.” Understanding how their lives differ from others’ will help your children see what they have to be grateful for.

2. Make a gratitude collage.

gratitude collage


A gratitude collage is a great way for children of any age to make a visual representation of the things they are thankful for. Kids can include pictures of family members and friends, pets, toys, and other household items on their collages. For pre-school aged children, you may want to provide the images for them to choose from. Older kids can clip their own pictures and mix words into their collages. Following up on the previous activity, emphasize with your kids that they can and should include the seemingly common things they might otherwise take for granted.

3. Acknowledge the people who make your life better.

Dr Who Hug


You are probably already teaching your kids to write thank you notes when they are given a gift, but what about saying thank you to the people who work behind the scenes to make their lives better? Some of these people—like teachers, coaches, or neighbors—might be familiar to children, but others—like mail carriers, trash collectors, librarians, or volunteers at the local community center—might be strangers. In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, talk with your children about all the people who impact their lives in big and small ways and then work together to write thank you notes that you children can help deliver.

 4. Cultivate gratitude throughout the year.

Gratitude Jar


There is no reason to stop your lessons in gratitude on Thanksgiving. This year, set up a gratitude jar somewhere in your house that family members can contribute to. Throughout the year, kids and grownups can add descriptions and images of things they are grateful for to the jar. The contents of the jar can then be used to make new gratitude collages next year.

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