As grandma excitedly hands your offspring a beautifully-wrapped sweater, you wait with bated breath…what’s your child going to do? Of course, you know what you would like her to do. In an ideal world, she would accept the sweater with a big smile and a sincere, “What a great gift, thank you Nana!” The more likely scenario? Your little monster will barely mutter “thanks,” before dropping said gift on the floor and running away to play with another toy.
Happily, help is at hand this holiday season from clinical psychologist and parenting guidance provider Dr. Becky Kennedy. Here are her expert tips for how to handle gift receiving and how to build gratitude.
“Gratitude is a feeling, not a behavior,” explains Dr. Becky in an Instagram video. “Yes, I want [kids] to act with more gratitude, but the more often they feel gratitude then the more they will act with gratitude.” So how do you teach your kid to actually feel grateful? You make space for it (more on that below).
But first, here’s some insight into what’s going on in your child’s brain. See, your son or daughter probably has an idea of what they want for the holidays or their birthday, like a video game or a Yoda plush toy (but definitely not a knitted jumper). And so, when they open up grandma’s gift and it’s not what they wanted, they’re going to be disappointed. And that’s OK, says Dr. Becky. “Parents need to understand the complexity of emotions around gift giving,” she explains. “We can’t have space in our bodies for a feeling like gratitude until we regulate the initial feelings that naturally come up for all of us.” In other words, your child has to regulate their feelings of disappointment about not getting what they wanted in order to have space for gratefulness for what they did get.