Gratitude Paradox: Teaching What Works

Media spending pressures begin before Halloween and only increases during the holiday frenzy. It does not have to be that way; parents do have the option to control the money flow.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | November 26, 2014

Halloween is when the first inklings of holiday music appear but Thanksgiving is the true ready-set-go that unleashes the December frenzy. Many parents feel powerless to do anything but go with the status quo flow.

Children begin to make lists of things they want early; some children don’t even ask, they demand.

Long before families tire of turkey leftovers, children begin to make lists of things they want; some children don’t even ask, they demand. Goods are chased down, put on credit cards then wrapped and put under the tree. This is all done as a family ritual – a tradition – begun long ago to make people happy and spread joy.

In January, though, the advertisements show up for loan consolidations and bankruptcy to deal with credit card debt from spreading too much cheer. Even before Thanksgiving, the commercials begin for diets and weight-loss pills, exercise machines and health clubs, all from overindulging and overspending.

The ones at the center of all this madness are the young, watching and learning as they grow their wants list and look through catalogs to see what the TV might have missed. Before THE day arrives, anticipation builds in their minds, dreams of how it is going to be. The day after all this, with the paper and ribbons headed to a landfill and the presents stacked high, many children wear a look of disappointment. Is that all there is?

Tutoring and mentoring is a wonderful volunteer activity for teens that indirectly benefit greatly by helping others.

Teaching children gratitude is a paradox; it’s both easy and difficult at the same time. Parents want to give their children more than they had as kids and I understand that, really I do. But resisting the urge to buy our children the latest gadgets and toys is very hard. What is even harder is the media pressure to shop and spend; there are sales, markdowns, in-store specials and Black Friday that has almost become a holiday tradition on its own. According to the retailers, though, to “save” incredible amounts of money you must first spend money. Resisting the coercion can be exhausting since it follows you at home, on the Internet, in your car radio and on billboards.

According to what I have heard and read, the number one way to teach children gratitude remains… give children less material goods.

Remember, it is not about not celebrating, it is about taking control of the amount. To make the situation easier parents can prepare their children ahead of time. Decide the acceptable dollar amount for each child and then stick to that amount. When children are young, the real challenge, though, may be relatives who insist on giving too many presents. The older a child is, though, the harder it may be for parents since the pattern has been set; for this child a discussion of values and what parents aim to teach should be in the forefront.

Teens who give to others by volunteering in soup kitchens and other activities come to appreciate how much they have.

No matter how parents go about giving less, turning off the media would slow the pressure to shop and buy. Finding activities for the entire family like volunteering and community service can teach gratitude and also create lasting memories.

Our family ended the gift giving to anyone outside the four of us when Chelsey was about four and Katie was a little over a year old. We bought modest presents and gave them the morning after our family sleepover, Christmas day. Many relatives were skeptical and gave the kids gifts anyway but for the most part, they eventually understood our goal and let go. The first thing I noticed was our stress levels lowering; next was watching other people still caught up in the gifting frenzy.

Realizing the need to fit in, Chelsey and Katie were given the choice in high school whether or not to buy gifts for their school friends. What I noticed was that they only gave a few gifts and the gifts they did give were more meaningful. Now that they are adults, whether they give gifts or not is entirely up to them. I am glad, though, that they will have the experience from our perspective.

Whatever other parents do is a matter of personal choice of course, just like ours was. There is no single, absolute right or wrong answer. I am interested, though, how other parents teach gratitude in their families.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Ron Zack Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Katy Stoddard Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of US Department of Education Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of SJU Undergraduate Admissions Under Flicker/CC License.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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15 Responses to Gratitude Paradox: Teaching What Works

  1. Great post, Jackie.
    Although, I have to say, that if someone gave me that train set for for a few days, I’d have fun playing with it.
    An elderly kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Ha ha ha! Elderly kid my foot! It’s funny because I was the girl kid that wanted that train set, and cars and trucks and horses… and remember the chemistry set? I wanted that too. When I was a kid we were asked what we wanted and we may name two or three things; I once asked for Charley Pride and Osborne Brothers records albums – nothing specific, I accepted anything. That was the way we were and we were grateful.

      In the Parents Anonymous group I attended, we were exposed to other families who had different kinds of holidays. One mom said her son demanded several things and if he didn’t get them, he promised to “destroy the house.” Because they did not have that much money and had three children, he did exactly what he said he would. Hearing about children like that made me very grateful that I had my children – it put my complaints in perspective.

      Thank you for bringing levity to this blog! ❤ 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. gpcox says:

    Fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kkessler833 says:

    Great post and thank you for re-blogging one of mine!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “small matter to make these silly folk so full of gratitude” ( -Angel of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol) one of my favourite parts of the story :there is old fezziwig alive again!!”


    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      That is a wonderful quote! Thank you so much for sharing that; I love A Christmas Carol. I reread that book last year. ❤


  5. As always a great post 🙂


  6. You’re right Jackie that the media demands parents to buy more and it can be difficult to resist that temptation, especially when kids are watching all those commercials! It’s important to balance material items with what is more important, which is Love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      It is maddening how media ties a child’s self esteem up with merchandise. Some children truly feel as if they are nothing unless they possess the latest gadget or name brand clothing. Do you remember the boots song by Nancy Sinatra called “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”? I never got those boots either and I remember that feeling. I never wanted my girls to feel like I did. In an ironic twist I actually won the 45-rpm record from our local radio station. 🙂

      You are correct, Christy, Love is the most important thing for parents to remember and things are not equal to that love.

      Thanks for stopping by.


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