‘Where’s My Present?!’ Tips for Teaching Your Kids Gratitude and Generosity

Inspiring kids to give back amidst the holiday chaos is not always easy.

Parenting expert Annie Fox offers tips on how to encourage kids to be thankful this holiday season. (Photo: Cultura/Jakob Helbig)

Each week parenting expert Annie Fox will share her wit and wisdom for teaching kids to be good people and strong learners.


Remember Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? She was the demanding little charmer who always said things like, "But I want it, Daddy. And I want it NOW!!" I'll pause here for a moment while you watch the video and have a chuckle.

Maybe you'll sigh with relief because your child is more gracious than Ms. Salt, or maybe you'll cringe because your kid's behavior occasionally bears some (slight) resemblance to this entitled little one.

If you're reading this on your laptop with a latte and muffin nearby, you're more fortunate than most. Maybe you don't need anyone to remind you. With the kind of life you've got, chances are your Thanksgiving will be filled with an abundance of good food, served in a lovely setting, and shared amongst a group of genial folks who are equally fortunate. 

More: Study Says: Parenting Is the Most Important Factor in Your Child’s Education

If you're a parent, your children are probably unaware of the hand they've been dealt. They're not to blame for that. They're kids. Mom and Dad comply with most requests, and home is filled with nice stuff to eat, to wear, and to play with. So why would they feel particularly fortunate? They see all of it as normal. But since normal means: "The usual, average, or typical state or condition," it's no stretch to say the level of goodies you and I have accumulated is not normal.

Need some proof? Google "Poverty Images." What comes up isn't easy to look at. Which is exactly why we (and our kids) need to look. Opening our eyes and our hearts is a great way to start a conversation about being grateful for what we have and how to help others who have so much less. Here are a few other ways to teach our kids gratitude and generosity this holiday season:

1. Start with please and thank you. Ah, the old "magic words" we conscientiously teach our toddlers so they learn to become considerate people. But without the follow-through that reinforces the lessons, tweens and teens often take for granted all the stuff we give them and do for them. Make sure your kids still say please and thank you. Gentle reminders are fine, but they're likely to have more impact when you accompany them with an honest account of how it feels if you do things for your kids and don't get acknowledgement. 

2. Model what you teach. Demonstrating the words and attitudes you want your kids to emulate has a strong influence on kids of all ages. It follows the classic parenting rule, "Catch your kid in the act of doing something right!" So don't hold back. Let your child hear these words from you often: "Thank you for helping your brother with his homework. Thank you for helping with the groceries. Thank you for walking the dog, setting the table, asking me how my day was. Thank you for being such a thoughtful kid and such a good friend."

3. Help them see beyond their tiny (abundant) corner of the world. Call a family meeting to discuss ways the family can help others this holiday season. Identify local community organizations that serve the needs of families and find out how your family can support their efforts with your money, food and clothing donations, and/or time.

4. Give to others. Since you and your kids may already have a lot, how about scaling back a bit this year and redirecting some of your cash toward organizations that are helping people around the world? American Red CrossOxfam AmericaInternational Rescue CommitteeGood WeaveDoctors Without BordersUNICEF and Kiva are some of my personal favorites. And there are many other inspirational organizations that are effectively working on solutions to local, national, and international challenges. Giving to them makes you (and any entitled kid you want to inspire) part of the solution. Find out who is doing what and support their efforts. Start your search here.

Happy Holidays!

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