By Erin Nixon, Middle School Counselor

The holiday season is upon us, and while this can truly be the most wonderful time of the year, it can also produce a fair amount of stress. The holiday to-do list can seem endless, and frequent disruptions to routines can be difficult for both kids and parents alike. We all know that the holidays should be an opportunity to relax and count our blessings with family and friends. Instead, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time impatiently waiting in the checkout line at Target, and I would guess I’m not alone here.

All of the presents, special treats and extra fun are part of what makes the holidays so exciting, but these luxuries can also contribute to children’s expectations hitting an all-time high. Many of our holiday traditions focus on creating joy for our children, and it is very natural for children to embrace that joy, and then want more. The “it’s all about me” mentality is normal for children, and true empathy is fostered over time and development.

By encouraging children to practice gratitude regularly, we can help our kids grow to think a little less about their wish-list and a little more about what they already have.

We can help them move away from seeing themselves as the center of the universe and towards thinking about others.

One way to foster gratitude is to spend a few moments each evening with your child, reflecting on what each of you is thankful for. Parents might need to model thinking beyond material items to help children learn that many of our greatest gifts are not things, but experiences. The idea is simply that children are encouraged to think about what already brings them joy, instead of what they want or wish they had. All of these moments of gratitude can be written on slips of paper and put into a jar. The jar provides a visual reminder of how much we already have.

The holidays are also a good time to encourage children to pass along old toys, or give a gift to charity. Helping children learn to think beyond themselves during the holiday season doesn’t have to be perfectly executed. Ask your child if they can think of anyone who might need extra support this season, and follow his or her lead. Remember, true empathy for others takes time to develop. Acts of giving and gratitude during the holidays are simply planting seeds for further development that happens over years. Some grumbling along the way is normal, and a part of the process of growing a child.

Above all, modeling gratitude and empathy is the best way to help grow these qualities in our children. Check out this article if you are looking for some kid-friendly service ideas for your family this season.

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