5 Ways to Teach Your Kids Gratitude This Christmas

... because the memories will last far longer than the stuff!

Written by Ben Barlowe  |  on


I’m a fairly-new dad with a wonderfully precocious four-year-old, a mischievous two-year-old and a third little one on the way. And, now that the first two are old enough to really experience Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to emphasize the true spirit of the holiday—one of faith, family, gratitude and giving—and shift the focus away from what’s under the tree.

So, looking to establish some meaningful family traditions that capture all of the Christmas magic without focusing on presents, I turned to some of the parents on Team YNAB to see how they celebrate the holidays with their kids. Here are five of my favorites!

1 – Take It Slow

Every parent knows that, if you let ‘em, kids will wake up and tear open all of their presents before the crack of dawn. Control the Christmas chaos by taking turns opening gifts (parents included!). When you go around the room, one at a time, it makes the fun last longer and it gives everyone a chance to enjoy the moment together.

… but, most importantly, it teaches kids patience and lets them experience the fun of watching a loved one open a present—a great way to demonstrate how giving can be just as gratifying as receiving.

2 – Put Family Time First

Another fun way to reinvent the gift-opening is to move it to later in the day. Instead of tearing open presents, first thing, start the day with a meaningful family tradition. You could have a special breakfast, play a game, or spend some time talking about why you celebrate and what the holiday means for your family. This sets the tone for the whole day, reinforcing the value of the things that matter most.

Neal, one of our developers, shared how his family always starts Christmas day by reading the Christmas story. Then, while breakfast is cooking, he and his wife send each of their kids on individual scavenger hunts throughout the house in search of their stockings. The kids enjoy watching their siblings succeed (or struggle!) to find their goodies and, by the time all of the stockings are discovered, breakfast is served. Then, only after eating together, they open gifts.

3 – Emphasize Giving

One of the best gifts that you can give to your kids is an understanding of how wonderful it feels to give, and the holiday season is an excellent opportunity to show them! Vida, a YNAB support representative, creates a “kindness calendar” with her family. Every year, they plan a random act of kindness for each day in December. For example, they might make a treat bag for the mailman, write a “thank you” card for the bus driver, or shovel the snow from a neighbor’s driveway. The daily activity is a great reinforcement of the power of giving, and you’ll make a ton of fun memories with your kids and community, too!

Another fun idea comes from Renae, a YNAB support representative, who supports an organization called Angel Tree. Every Christmas, each of her kids pick out a present to send to a child from the Angel Tree list. Find a charity that’s near to your heart and do the same—or give the gift of your time by volunteering at a homeless shelter or food pantry.

4 – Expect Gratitude

Christmas is a great time for your kids to practice the art of saying “Thank you!”

Melissa, a YNAB support manager, shared how, after the kids open and enjoy their Christmas gifts, they take some time to write thank you notes together as a family. This helps the kids appreciate the effort and thought behind the gifts and the meaning behind them.

5 – Be an Example

You know what they say, more is caught than taught. In other words, there’s no better way to teach children a trait than to exemplify it, yourself. So, express gratitude and serve others, often, and not just around the holidays! Show your kids the compassion category in your budget! Bring the kids along when you drop off a donation or a gift. Whatever it is that you do, show it off! Be an example to your children every day and, then, just wait …


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