14 years and 7 kids ago, we started a tradition. When little Ben (then 2 years old) received a gift, we taught him to write a thank you note before opening and playing with it. Opening 1 toy all the way and setting the other gifts aside for later helped with the “toddler-is-overwhelmed-because-he-now-has-15-new-toys-and-just-takes-them-all-out-but-plays-with-none” problem. It also spread out the mommy job of helping him write his thanks.
Over the 14 years since, the kiddos have expressed their thanks in some really fun ways. When Christmas rolls around and everyone receives a gift, we have a thank-you-note boot camp and writing party. Since we have children across the ages, we gather around the table and start by sharing Bible verses that express thanks to remind all of us that gratitude is a state of the heart and that we can always find a reason to be thankful. Then the big kids or I help little siblings by dotting out T-h-a-n-k-s for them to trace and big kids set to work creating their thank you’s.
Utilize your child’s strengths and let their Thank You shine with gratitude!
#1 Draw A Picture
You’ll need: Paper. Crayons.
Set the gift on the table and chat about how perfect it is for your little one or how much fun it will be to play with it. Let them draw (or scribble!) to their little heart’s desire. Sometimes we’ve cut out part of the package and pasted it to their art work, other times I help add a few words of thanks.
Tip: This option isn’t just for toddlers! We have a 10 year old artist in our home- he almost always draws his thanks then adds a few words.
#2 Let them Dictate
You’ll need: A cute notecard. Pen. Patience.
I learned early on that while my 6 year old may have quite an experience to share. If I ask him to write out his thanks, he may get “Dear Gran, Thanks for the Lego. Love, Andrew” written down. If, however, I allow him to dictate his thoughts to me he often includes details such as how he plans to play with it, how long he wanted it or that he’s looking forward to her visit so he can show her his newest Lego creation.
Tip: Offer a few prompts! Ask, “How will you use this?” or “Is this your favorite color?”
#3 Snap a Photo
You’ll need: Camera. Gift. A winning smile.
Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. A photo thank you can be such a huge blessing to far away family!
Tip: Get creative! Snap an unposed action shot of your child using the gift or let the kids do an unexpected thank you pose. Another idea is to encourage your child to “stage” the photo (ie: your daughter may set her American Girl doll up in the outfit grandma gave and even draw a background to make the time period come to life!)
#4 Write a Story
You’ll need: A creative child who loves to weave a yarn.
Turn your creative writer loose! Allow her to make up a story about a magical scarf that whisked her away to a winter wonderland every time she wrapped it around her neck or let your son picture himself in the video game and tell about his adventures.
Tip: Don’t forget to keep a copy of this priceless thank-you in their school folder!
You’ll need: A talker & a phone.
Sometimes, unlimited time to chat with a cousin means much more than a hand-written note. Don’t force yourself and your child into a tradition of writing. Adding one more to-do ultimately isn’t the goal! Remember, you’re teaching gratitude!
Tip: Chat before hand about the gift and the generosity of the giver then allow your child to call and share from his heart.
When the gift doesn’t fit
You’ll need: A tender heart and gentle leading.
You know it’s bound to happen… little brother gets an epic Lego set but big sis opens a plain pink T-shirt that’s 2 sizes too big. It can be hard to express gratitude when… well, when you’re not thankful! This is not an opportunity for correction but a chance to lovingly shape your daughter’s view of gifts and gratitude.
One year, the flop was so bad that instead of writing about the gift itself, we wrote how sweet it was to give and that we were praying they’d have a blessed New Year. You know- the old “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” bit. Now, looking back, we laugh about those gifts and remember them more than ones that were prized at the time!
Tip: Always try to look for the good in any situation. You may do this with humor or by keeping the thanks simple. Or perhaps she can share how excited she is about a trip to the store alone with Mom when she exchanges it for her size!
Remember Why You Started
However your child communicates their gratitude, remember this is one more opportunity in your parenting to train up your kiddo in being thankful. We’ve been given so much by our gracious Heavenly Father – saying thank you to those who give presents is one way to learn it is more blessed to give than to receive.