By Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman
What ever happened to the “Thanks” part of Thanksgiving?
Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays. In fact, it is a family favorite—one that is filled with savory and sweet smells, warmth, and comfortable conversation with loved ones and friends. I just adore it.
On the flip side, Thanksgiving is also the beginning of the biggest commercial season of the year. Think of the sales! The holiday music! The must-have toys of the season! Corporations vie for your attention and of course, the attention of your children.
Believe it or not, it is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billon per year on advertising messages aimed at your children. More than half of the toy industry’s annual $30 billion in sales happen during the weeks leading up to the holiday season. Therefore it is not surprising that the average child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year—and over 100 commercials per day. No doubt that some of the most influential commercials present themselves in November and December since American families are primed to react and spend.
How can we save Thanksgiving from simply being reduced to “the day before the best shopping day of the year?”
Seven years ago, in the wake of September 11th, we remembered what Thanksgiving was really about—giving thanks for our family, our friends, and our freedom. We can’t let a tragedy be the only stimulus that reminds us to cherish what we have, instead of what materials goods we want. So perhaps instead of letting this holiday just be about a big dinner, special desserts, and a few days off from the typical routine, let’s use it as a chance to let the kids know that there are reasons to celebrate and give thanks.
Here are some ways to get away from need and greed and to bring gratitude and graciousness to the forefront.
(1) Discuss the real meaning of Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season: Since Thanksgiving, in many American households, has been reduced simply to “Turkey day,” it is not surprising that the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving has been buried under the proverbial pile of mashed potatoes. Talk to your children about what these holidays really mean to you and ask your children what they mean to them. If they simply remark, “presents!” or “cupcakes!” you know that you have some work to do. It may take some patience, but this is the time to start a new tradition of gratitude. Break out the family bucket list! Talk about what your grateful for this year! In the war against the “gimme-gimme ghouls” of Thanksgiving past, present, and future, this is the time to change your family lexicon and behavior around the holidays.
(2) Help your child understand the power of the media: It is amazing. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we are 4 or 44 years old, commercials have a profound effect on our brains. Your child may want the latest “Laugh with Me Laura Doll” just as much as you want the newest digital camera or Plasma TV. While adults have more of an abstract understanding of how media influences our interests and wants, children are more concrete and lack the cognitive capabilities to understand the power of persuasion. They see it, they want it, they have to have it, and you have to give it to them. Talk to your children about how it is the job of the media to make toys look a certain way to con children into buying. Children don’t like to be conned. Let them know about the money, techniques, and “magic tricks” advertisers use to make us feel a certain way about a product.
(3) Seek out activities that build character: It is important in the face of commercialism, to take time to do activities that take no money at all. Discuss your family values and then brainstorm ways to foster them. Bring your Powerful Words into your Table Time Talk. Perhaps you can make it a tradition to do charity work, plant a tree, go hiking as a family, or rediscover old toys in the back of the closet that some other children could use in the coming year. If you do not have the time to do such activities with your children, do not fret. Seek out a family friend, relative or even an activity such as martial arts, gymnastics, or scouts that has a character education program in place to help bring out the personal best in your children. The aim is to help children realize that Thanksgiving, inherent in its name, is not about getting, but giving.
(4) Talk to your children about making gifts instead of buying them: I know it’s not gift-giving season yet. But if you do not want children to wait to the last minute to think about gift giving, talk to them about the power of the homemade gift early. Break out the crayons and crafts and encourage your children to be creative. In addition, now that we are in the tech-savvy world of computers and your children are likely to be pros at operating one, making cards, scrapbooks, audio recordings, or family videos could be priceless. I believe it was in the year 2000 that I video-taped my grandmother talking about our family history, what it was like to grow up in the 1920s, and how she felt about our family. She past away in 2004. The video recording is one of my family’s most precious possessions and it didn’t cost one red cent. Children can also make “Powerful Promissory notes” for gifts—promising to wash the car, clean the garage, baby sit, make breakfast, or do some other elected family chore that would help others.
(5) Remember to give thanks: Who would you like to thank? Teachers? Coaches? Family? Friends? Turn off the cell phone, unplug the TV, and get back to the basics. Discuss the things for which you are grateful—those irreplaceable, precious things that are near and dear to your heart. Model the ability to be thankful and call attention to how giving thanks makes people feel (both the giver and the receiver!). Instead of simply giving thanks before the sweet potato pie is being served, declare November and December “Thanksgiving months.” Why not? Once per day, each member of the family, whether you’re a single parent family or duel-parent family, can say why they are thankful. Sometimes it is helpful to do this at a specific time each day like before a meal is served or before bedtime. Some families find it helpful to use a reminder symbol to encourage giving thanks—like placing a “gratitude rock” in their pocket or placing a “gratitude bear” by the bedside. Any way you do it, you will be surprised about how it changes the climate of the family.
In the end, children take their cues from you. The media might be powerful but it can be dwarfed by the power of a parent who shows, tells, and exudes a thankful spirit for the precious gifts that could never be bought at any sale the day after Thanksgiving.
Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman’s programs and services are used worldwide to help children, teens, and adults reach their potential. She is also a success coach for parents, adolescents, and educators, who are looking to achieve their goals, improve their lives or improve the lives of others. She is currently getting ready to run 2 tele-coaching groups for adults who ready to set and achieve specific goals in 2009. Contact Dr. Robyn to reserve your spot. Spaces are limited to 12-15 people per group for maximum productivity. Apply now. Serious inquiries only.
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