Christmas is just around the corner and I want to share a little Christmas present with you. This present is something for you and your children. Christmas is definitely a time of giving abundantly and parents often do so with their little ones. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on all of you, it’s just a simple fact about how we live in the United States. We’re a consumer driven market so quite naturally a holiday in which gift giving is promoted, even as a peripheral act to religious celebrations, leads to spending and giving gifts generously. What parent doesn’t want to give generously to their children? The question is, are we giving them the right stuff? Material things are fun, but maybe this year give them something that can make them happier, reduce negative emotional experiences, develop empathy for others, and be a more forgiving helpful person. What magic gift is this? Teach them to savor life and be grateful for what they have.
Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology demonstrated through his research that people who “stop and smell the roses” seem to have more positive, healthy, and flourishing lives. This ability to intentionally experience the “present” and exercise a mindful disposition for the good things we experience in life seems to be a very important element for healthy living. Couple this mindful presence with a heart of gratitude and you have quite the winning combination. I’m proposing there are four things you can do starting this Christmas morning to benefit your children helping them grow to be healthy flourishing adults. Here is what I want you to do in the midst of flying wrapping paper and squeals of excitement:
- Have your child open one gift at a time. When they open it have them take time to explore it and be interested in it. Have them “savor” the gift and express gratitude for it. Don’t drag it out for 20 minutes, but take at least two minutes to show them how to be present to that particular gift and the joy of receiving it. As a side note if you think two minutes per gift might be too long maybe you’re over buying for your children? Just a thought to ponder.
- Teach your child to say thank you for the gifts they receive. Make sure they understand thank you means more than words being parroted back to the gift giver. Help them learn to be grateful because believe it or not, being grateful is not something that comes natural to us. Being sinful human beings means being selfish human beings.
- Model savoring and gratitude for your child. Make sure your children see how grateful you are for what you receive and how you take the time to enjoy and appreciate the experience of receiving the gift. Not just the gift itself, the “experience” of receiving it.
- At the end of Christmas day commit to starting a gratitude journal. Perhaps one of the gifts you can give your children is a notebook and a pen. Sit down together as a family once all the fanfare has settled and have each person write down five things they are grateful for receiving. Robert Emmons, a well known researcher in the area of gratitude, found people who did this daily or even weekly were healthier, less stressed, and more optimistic. Make sure you tell your children each week, perhaps on Sunday, you will be writing down and talking about five things each of you are grateful for that week. Make it a family habit so it becomes ingrained in your family culture.
We get stuff at Christmas, and in the American culture, it ‘s expected. In some sense it’s even okay. We don’t want to become gluttons of stuff, but it’s perfectly acceptable to shower one another with gifts. A bigger mistake is giving and getting things and not learning how to savor the moment of receiving a gift and being grateful for it. If you want to do one thing this year teach your children to enjoy, savor, and be thankful for what they have. Then, use this Christmas to start the practice of weekly gratitude sharing. Sunday is a great day to use because Christians already use that day to worship and give thanks to God. Why not use Sunday to share things you’re grateful for with one another after a wonderful day of being in the presence of a generous God. So, what are you going to give your children for Christmas this year? How about the habit of gratitude and thankfulness!