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6 ways to foster kindness, not brattiness, in kids over the holidays

The holidays can be tricky when it comes to kids and kindness. The irresistible pull of all those toys and treats can put a damper on even the most kindhearted kid’s better nature.

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What’s a parent to do? Thankfully, as part of our "Raising Kind Kids" challenge, TODAY Parenting Team contributors weighed in with all sorts of suggestions for helping children feel, and show, genuine gratitude during the holiday season. We’ve compiled some of their smart insights here.

Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our TODAY Parenting Team, and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you have your own ideas for how to teach the right sorts of lessons at this time of year, please let us know. We want to hear from you!

1. Do a dry run with “Grateful Gifts.” (Amanda Mushro)

Courtesy of Amanda Mushro

“You know that moment when your kids are faced with a pile of presents that were carefully selected by loved ones, beautifully wrapped, and probably cost a small fortune? You know how it takes mere moments for kids to rip through each and every package and your darling children look up and say what you’re dreading the most, ‘Are there any more?’ Instead of hiding your face in piles of shredded wrapping paper, give your kids a practice run and the right words to say with ‘Grateful Gifts.’ Have the kids go through the house and select three ‘gifts’ for each other — only items that are already in your house. Here’s the rules:

“The first gift has to be one the other person will LOVE.

“The second gift has to be a practical gift.

“The third gift has to be a super silly gift.

“Help the kids wrap the gifts for each other (newspaper works too!). Now everyone unwraps one present at a time while everyone else watches — this is helping them slow down when they are so, so excited. After they open the gift, they must look at the gift giver, and say, ‘Thank you, ______. I really like this gift because_____.’ Then the next person can open a gift.”

2. “Participate in random acts of kindness.” (Amy McCready)

“When we perform a random act of kindness, it creates a ripple effect with others continuing to pay it forward. Letting your kids see you perform random acts of kindness and encouraging them to do the same – without promise of reward or anything in return – is empowering and exciting. It’s a great way to teach kids about the power they have to spread generosity and kindness in their world. Many acts of kindness don’t have to cost a dime!”

3. Be generous with praise when things go well — but watch word choice. (Noelle Kirchner)

Courtesy of Noelle Kirchner

“How we praise our children is just as important as doing it. I’ve learned to applaud the behavior, not the person. For instance, if my son does something kind, I don’t say, ‘You are such a kind person.’ Instead, I say, ‘Good job. That’s kindness.’ Ultimately, we don’t want our children to equate their personal value with what they do or don’t do; we want them to be able to identify good behavior and replicate it.”

4. Reflect on reasons to be thankful with your kids. (Jenny Howell)

“If you are in the habit of talking about thanks in your family then this will be easy and fun. If this is a new endeavor, then jump in and start today. There could be slight awkwardness with your older kids if you've never had this conversation before. I can almost promise you that those big kids need the security and comfort of family just as much — if not more than your little people. Opening up talks about thanks could be a sweet addition to your relationship and you may see kindness start to develop.”

5. “Foster empathy.” (Amy McCready)

“When we teach our children to put themselves in another’s shoes and see things from the other person’s point of view, it changes the way they look at the world. Help your kids fine tune their sense of empathy and pair it with a healthy dose of kindness. Start by having conversations such as, ‘I noticed our neighbor Mrs. Green was moving really slowly to her mailbox today. It turns out she hurt her leg. What do you think we can do to help her?’”

6. Give with joy. (Kaley E.)

Courtesy of Kaley E.

“Giving because you expect to receive something in return is simply a calculated transaction that just brings continued obligation. That’s not the kind of giver I want to be. I want to give joyfully and not for the benefit that I receive from it. I want to pass that kind of giving down to my children. I want them to know the joy of giving without expecting anything in return. I want them to be risky with their kindness. Christmas offers us that kind of opportunity — if we choose grace.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Twitter @ltcoff and Google+ and learn about her new book, "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts," at MyOldDogBook.com.

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