Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
There is a scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas in which Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, is writing her Christmas letter. Charlie Brown quickly becomes disgusted as Sally dictates what promises to be a long, very specific list and says Santa could always just send cash. As her brother walks away, Sally says, “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”
It’s a funny moment because few children would state the sentiment so baldly, but it plays to a fear many parents experience close to the holidays. What messages are our children absorbing about presents? How do we maintain our traditions of gift-giving while making sure our kids don’t become entitled?
One strategy is to focus on counting blessings this time of year. Research continues to affirm the power of gratitude. Focusing on gratitude regularly and mindfully has been shown to have significant benefits for our physical and emotional health (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude), including stronger immune systems and overall well-being and happiness (Greater Good Science Center - http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/). But how do we get our children to pay attention? In addition to dinnertime or bedtime rituals to recount daily blessings, some classic movies and culturally diverse media can provide positive messages too.
Holiday media that reinforces appreciation for family, friends and other nonmaterial things can help to get the conversation about gratitude started. Some nice choices are assembled below for a range of ages from the kids’ media experts at SmartFeed (www.TheSmartFeed.com).
Movies that reinforce gratitude during the holidays
A Charlie Brown Christmas (3+)
First airing in 1965, this Peanuts animated television classic is a humorous and endearing reminder of how love and friendship can wash away the holiday blues (Charlie Brown’s initial reaction to the cheery holiday season). It weaves in a number of religious references.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (5+)
Emmet and Ma work hard just to get by. They both secretly enter a talent show hoping to win the money to buy Christmas presents for each other. Neither wins, but in the end they are grateful for each other and their friends.
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Babe is the story of a talking pig that discovers he can be anything (even a sheepdog) thanks to his perseverance and the support of friends on the farm. On Christmas the friendship of the farmer saves Babe from being killed. Through ups and downs, Babe appreciates and rewards his good friends, including the farmer, with his devotion and grit.
It’s a Wonderful Life (8+)
The classic story of George Bailey being shown he is “the richest man in town” due to the love and respect he has in the community is an inspiring pick for the whole family.
The Black Candle: A Kwanzaa Celebration (9+)
This documentary is the perfect introduction to the history and practice of Kwanzaa. The holiday’s focus on community and faith in oneself are great starting points for a discussion on what we are grateful for.
The Preacher’s Wife (10+)
This modern remake of a 1947 romantic comedy introduces an angel (Denzel Washington) into the lives of a preacher, his wife (Whitney Houston) and son when the financial pressures of the church start to overshadow their relationship and appreciation for each other and for the joy of life. The angel reminds the pastor that his family is the most important thing in this life.
Little Women (10+)
The touching 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel features several heartwarming Christmas scenes, including the March family reconnecting with family and appreciating the joy of being together for the holidays. They express their gratitude by sharing their Christmas dinner with a neighboring hungry family.
Books that reinforce gratitude during the holidays:
Oskar and the Eight Blessings (4+)
Oskar arrives in New York, where he has been sent to escape Nazi Germany, on the seventh night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. He encounters kind people who help him and give him gifts; a beautiful story about the blessings people can offer others, even in dark circumstances.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story (6+)
Seven brothers in an African village fight constantly. When their father dies, his will task them with making gold from seven spools of thread. In the course of accomplishing this, they learn to value each other and their community.
The Family under the Bridge (9+)
A Parisian homeless man named Armand is generally happy with his life until some children and their mother take up residence under his bridge close to Christmas. With time he appreciates and embraces them as family, and he works to get them a home.
The Gift of the Magi (10+)
The classic O. Henry story, with lovely illustrations by P. J. Lynch. A husband and wife sacrifice their most prized possessions in order to buy presents for each other, demonstrating the power of love - the true meaning of Christmas.
Apps that reinforce gratitude during the holidays:
My Menorah (2+)
A fully featured Hanukkah app with a menorah to light, a dreidel game, songs and some foundational Hebrew. Included are “Eight Days of Happiness” tips for parents on teaching children about the meaning and traditions behind the holiday and expressing appreciation for the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (4+)
A great adaptation of a well-known classic, with added interactivity. The Grinch is a great story for emphasizing that Christmas is about love and connectedness, not the material things.
Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol (9+)
The familiar tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption and the joy found in love, not possessions, beautifully retold by pop-up book illustrator Chuck Fischer.
Gratitude Journal (11+)
This app makes it easy to establish a daily gratitude practice; just take five minutes a day to record what you are thankful for.
A TV show that reinforces gratitude during the holidays:
Arthur’s Perfect Christmas (5+)
A wide range of holidays are represented here, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and St. Lucia Day. Many of the characters don’t get everything they were hoping for out of the holidays, but they learn to be grateful for what they do get.
For additional media options, check out this playlist of gratitude media (http://www.thesmartfeed.com/staff_picks/gratitude) that help children learn to appreciate what they have. Keeping the focus on appreciation, family and friendships is a recipe for happy holidays.