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How to teach children gratitude and the art of receiving gifts

Teaching children gratitude and etiquette is quite challenging. Convincing them to gracefully say "thank you" and be polite when receiving a gift they don't like seems like an impossible task. However, with practice, it will happen.

Nevertheless, set your priorities straight. When you have to deal with children who are savagely honest and unapologetic, practice won't make perfect; but it will surely help.

So, if you ask us how to teach children gratitude, we'll say practice and patience are king. Where do you begin? 

How to teach children gratitude in 7 Steps

1) Practice Gift-giving and gift-receiving

Of course, the first step is to practice appreciation. Fundamentally, we need to teach our children what gratitude is. They will not get it for the first time, of course. But, persistence is key

Do not try to teach your children long scripts of what to say when they receive gifts. Moreover, don't force them to act as though they absolutely love all the gifts they receive. In fact, you can encourage them to give a warm embrace or a kiss on the cheek for the gift they liked the most, and a "thank you" followed by a smile for all the other gifts.

"Thank you" is both the easiest and the most difficult thing to say. However, its value is immense and your children will need it later in life. So, practice saying "thank you" with your kids ahead of time.

2) Prepare your children for when they don't receive what they want

Disappointment is hard at any age. So, maybe the hardest thing to do when teaching children gratitude is to get them to be kind and say thank you even when they don't receive the gifts they like.

So, it would be best to prepare them in advance for when they don't receive what they want.

Try telling them gift stories. A gift is a thought. Every time someone gives them a gift, it means they are thinking of them. What they are actually giving them are love and attention. That's the real meaning of a gift. 

A gift is a way of saying "I'm thinking about you", and that is wonderful. That is what we say "thank you" for.

Don't expect your children to understand all this from one go, but keep telling them these little stories about how their little friend Ryan went about finding the gift or about how Aunt Lizy spent days thinking about what to get them.

3) Involve your children in gift shopping activities

You can make your children part of gift shopping. Let them see how challenging it is to buy someone a gift.

You're not just teaching them charity and kindness. You're also helping them understand first-hand that it takes time, work and thought to buy a gift. 

Shopping for gifts is a great, direct experience of the thought process, budgeting, and gift-giving effort. It might have a much more significant impact on them than you'd think. 

4) Play a Gift-Receiving Game

Play-pretend games allow children to manifest their whole selves. It's the best way to try and teach them gratitude. 

You can start by saying: "Let's play a little game. Let's pretend that [name a family member/friend] sent you a gift today. I'll name three things that you could possibly receive, and you'll let me know what you think about them".

You can then name some funny gifts, such as a cucumber or a browning banana, to see how they react. 

Now, let your children tell you how these gifts make them feel. Talking about our emotions help us understand them better and develop emotional intelligence.

If your children do not act very gracious towards the chosen gifts, use this play-pretend game as an opportunity to discuss empathy and the concepts of gift-giving and gratitude. Help them put themselves in the gift-giver's shoes. 

Little by little, you can guide them towards expressing gratitude and using the magic "thank you" word more often.

5) Be a good example

Remember always to show gratitude and say "thank you" whenever you receive gifts, especially if your kids are the gift-givers.

As parents, we should be cautious about our behaviour, because children can learn a lot from example. 

6) Don't let your children feel entitled 

Don't let your children form certain expectations about what they should receive. That would lead to disappointment when their expectations are not met. 

Moreover, entitlement is a dangerous road to go down with your children. Giving them everything they want at all times will only fuel their feeling of entitlement, and gratitude will drop by the wayside. 

Try to avoid that. We all love our children to the moon and back and want what's best for them. But, avoid getting caught in the entitlement loophole. 

7) Encourage your children to become gift-givers

Your children will go to other children's birthday parties. So, involve your children in the gift-buying and gift-giving process, and let them be the ones that offer the gift. In this way, they will come to understand the two perspectives of gift-giving and receiving. 

How to react when your children sulk because they don't like the gifts

If your children are acting up because of a gift, you should keep calm.

You can begin by saying, "I understand how you feel. You don't like this toy."

Sometimes, this sentence alone can work wonders. Usually, children throw tantrums in an effort to make themselves understood.

So, show them that you understand their feelings first. Then, you can start telling them that the gift-giver is also feeling bad about it. 

How to teach children gratitude, from a scientific standpoint

You can teach your children to say "thank you" from a very young age. However, developmental experts say they don't have the necessary empathy abilities to fully grasp what "thank you" means until they're at least 8 years old.

So, don't worry about it. Children might not be able to understand the gift giver's point of view until they're a bit older.

According to specialists, perspective-taking is an essential social ability that we learn to master from 8-10 years old or older.

Until then, children are simply not at the point where their cognitive development allows them to fully grasp what the experience is like from another person's standpoint.

So, don't panic if your children have a hard time appreciating gifts. Just make sure you constantly talk to them about the values of gratitude and the importance of saying "thank you". If you do it often, they'll grow up to be kind and generous adults.