Teaching Our Kids Gratitude, One Birthday at a Time


The Gift Wagon

I was hanging out at a kid’s birthday party recently (yes, I do a lot of that and yes, they provide me with lots of blog material) when I spotted the above:  The Gift Wagon.  Literally a wagon with a handle and wheels about 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall.  As I tried surreptitiously to take a photo of the wagon, I thought about the complaints so many of us have made about our ungrateful kids. And I started wondering: Might we as parents be contributing to our children’s ungrateful hearts when we:

  • Treat every birthday as if it were a major milestone, and hold celebrations the scope of which were once reserved for sweet 16 parties?
  • Expect the 15 invitees to our 5 year old’s party to bring enough large presents to fill the gift wagon?
  • Provide each invitee with a party favor that costs more than a sweater?

So what can be done? Is there a way to break out of this birthday party madness that will keep our children happy and help us teach them to be grateful even when we don’t rent out the nearest funplex for them and 20 of their closest friends? Yes! I have seen quite a few families do some pretty creative things with birthdays, including:

  • Host birthday parties for their kids only every other or every third year.  On the off years have a small celebration with family.
  • In lieu of gifts, ask each invitee to bring a book and have a book exchange where each child goes home with a new book.
  • Ask invitees to bring a donation to a designated charity instead of a gift.
  • Host a “party” where the kids volunteer together for a charity (cleaning the animal shelter, serving at a soup kitchen, sorting cans at a food bank)
  • Keep it small and simple.  There’s nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned, backyard party with cake and ice cream.  No clowns, no bouncy houses, no portable petting zoos.  You might be surprised at how well the kids can entertain themselves.

Have you had luck keeping your kids grateful? What did you do (or not do)?