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This post was originally published last year, but it bears repeating. Reading it this morning, I was reminded of some helpful preparation I can do with my kids in the next few days.

Christmas is coming and gifts will be exchanged. Even the healthiest, happiest kids have difficulty navigating how to receive and give thanks appropriately, and it can be a huge challenge for our kids who came to us from “hard places”.

How do we teach children to receive a gift with grace and gratitude? It may take years, but we want them to grow in their ability to do this well.  These five hints will help them along the way, and make holiday celebrations more pleasant for everyone.

1. Let your child know what to expect.

One of our daughters lived in an orphanage where she watched many Disney movies – her dreams of a mountain of shiny, wrapped gifts heaped under the Christmas tree came from Hollywood, not reality. We’ve become much more structured in gift giving in order to help our children have realistic expectations of what will happen Christmas morning. We explain that they will each receive a book and two other gifts. Whatever your plan is, be sure to repeat it many times, especially the first few years.


Advent goes best when I keep my expectations low – that’s actually true of all holidays at our house. We’re one day behind on our Jesse Tree and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas, and nearly a week behind on Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent. But it doesn’t matter one bit because Advent is a time to anticipate the coming of Jesus, so simply enjoying the celebration is enough.

We’ve come up with a good rhythm. On school mornings, we gather at the table at 7:30 and read Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The kids take turns adding an ornament to our Jesse Tree, which is a gangly  and rather large branch off a bush in our backyard. I found a tall, square vase at Ross and filled it with ornaments (Katie’s idea) and small white lights. Katie put it together one Sunday and we’ve enjoyed it every day since.

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