Gratitude vs. Consumption Part 1: Helping Kids Be Grateful


Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

I am here to admit that I genuinely dread parts of the next two months.

Now that it is November, the holiday season is in full swing here in the U.S.

The morning after Halloween, I walked to the store to find all Halloween items already replaced with Christmas items.

I felt that annual anxiety creep in…the season of excess had arrived.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the intentions of the holidays. But what actually transpires is often far from original intentions.

I believe children have it worse than adults.

So my first post in my series about gratitude and consumption focuses on helping kids through this season.

By December 26th, many parents have heard the phrase “I want” more than the phrase “thank you.”

This reality can leave us parents feeling like failures. Why aren’t my kids grateful??

Answer: Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing.

Kids are bombarded with flashy toy displays everywhere they go, sugar, and commercials promising endless joy…all while possessing their natural level of zero self control.

Parents want sweet and grateful children, but everything surrounding children tells them to “want it all.”

How can we minimize all this for our children?

I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I know what has (mostly) worked for my kids.

Here are some strategies to set your kids (and yourself) up for success through these two months:

1. No screen November

The first week of No Screen November is very hard. You have to hold firm in moments when you would rather give into their pleas and be left alone. But I am always blown away by the positive changes in my children.

When my kids have no screen time they are self-aware, kind, thoughtful, responsive, helpful, grateful, and polite. When they have a lot of screen time they are impulsive, insatiable, zoned out, selfish, and rude.

Why so drastic? Why not just limit screen time? Because sometimes absolutes are easier than leaving wiggle room. Trust me.

Screen time usually includes commercials of the latest toys. Screen time appears to short-circuit their brain in a way that hinders transitions. Screen time provides constant hits of endorphins instead of the calm/contemplative state required for gratitude.

So when you completely remove media for a period of time, they are not begging for the latest toys, they transition better, and they have more calm.

This is my anecdotal conclusion from over 4 separate months of zero screens. (For more on those experiences you can read my posts No Media March and No Media Update).

In short, a month off of screens makes my kids enjoyable to be around and less whiny and selfish.

2. No Shopping With Children

Last year, for the entire month of December I did not set foot in Walmart or Target with my children. I refused to fuel their insatiable appetite for cheap plastic toys.

I was intentional to only take them to grocery stores and occasionally Walgreens for toiletries/vitamins.

This was not always easy, and I understand that sometimes kids have to come with us.

But if you can avoid taking them, do it.

They cannot beg for toys they don’t know about.

3. Give

Every year my kids fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. They fill the boxes with toiletries, socks, art supplies, and small toys.

These boxes find their way around the world to children in need at Christmas time.

While building the shoe boxes, my children and I always have amazing conversations.

They always ask why we are including soap and toothbrushes in a “fun” box. This provides a great opportunity to discuss needs and wants. I get to teach them that some people do not have their basic needs met, so while it is fun to give toys they also need basic items.

When we go to the drop-off station and they hand over their boxes, I see the gratitude in their eyes. In that moment, it seems like they understand how blessed they are.

So if you children are struggling to appreciate what they have or have a mile-long Christmas list (like my kids), turn their focus outward.

4. Keep Santa Simple

If you celebrate Christmas, Santa can become expensive, exhausting, and competitive.

In our house, Santa only brings food. The kids write down their favorite snacks and treats and that is what they find in their stocking Christmas morning. No toys from Santa.

My son recently asked why Santa brings us food but brings toys to other kids. I simply told him that Santa knows we have plenty of toys and needs to save them for other children.

This may sound too simple or not “magical” to some. But I think that someday when the kids get wise to “Santa,” they will not be as shocked. We also will not have to change our tradition. Stockings can continue to be for food, and Mom and Dad will continue to get them 1-2 gifts each.

I am not Scrooge.

I actually love the holidays. The smells, the tree, the food, the love, the family, the cozy mornings off with nowhere to be. Unwrapping gifts together and the joy on the kids’ faces. These simple joys are my favorite.

But in a world of excess and too much, these simple joys of the holidays get lost.

So all the strategies above are simply my way of protecting those simple joys. I want those things to stand out and the excess to recede.



  1. I recently found your blog and really enjoy it. While my kids are now adults and some have children of their own, your insights are uplifting and I look forward to reading your articles.
    Since we are a blended family of 7 kids, we have exchanged names and each person has one gift to get. The gift is a version of “white elephant”. It can be a re-gift, resale or unique but cannot cost more than $10 out of pocket. The holidays are meant for enjoying each other and we have tried to keep that tradition. We play a game each year and the winner of each turn gets to give their gift to their chosen name.
    It works for our family because of us being blended and everyone having so many places to be and gifts to get. It keeps our tradition simple and still family focused.
    Keep up the great work and keep making those family traditions! Our family looks forward to our games every year!


  2. Wow! I wish I would have had this point of view 40 years ago when my kids were tots! Well said, well thought out and excellent ideas! Thank you.


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