The two 10-year-old girls must have been freezing outside the grocery store in suburban St. Louis, but it wasn't obvious to passers-by.
It was 34 degrees and windy. They were wearing big, puffy jackets and bright, fuzzy scarves, with Santa hats layered on top of woolen hats.
The girls were nearing the end of a two-hour shift that had started at 8 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning. With their mothers standing behind them and the red Salvation Army bucket front and center, the foursome were ringing bells rather zealously. The girls were singing "Jingle Bells."
At one point, Anna Fairchild said, "It's so cold out here, Mommy."
Her mother, Christine Fairchild, responded gently: "We're out here for two hours. There are people out here all the time."
The girls kept ringing and singing and smiling.
Christine, a 38-year-old oncology nurse, had been out here the night before with her teenager. Volunteering for the shifts through their church has become a family tradition. There are moments when she's reminded why they do it.
This cold morning, a middle-aged woman stopped in front of the bucket with a handful of change. "I don't have a job right now," the woman said. "This is all I can give, but I want to give something."
Christine wants her daughters to witness these moments of generosity.
Laura McDurmont, 42, of Ballwin, Missouri, decided she and her daughter, Emma, would join the Fairchilds on this outing. Earlier in the month, the McDurmonts had visited a special-needs school to help children pick out toys. They also brought donations to a local food pantry and made gifts for another child through church.
"Right now, you're pretty lucky," Laura has told her children. "But you don't know when your luck is going to run out."
Babies and toddlers are self-centered by nature, and our job as parents requires that we meet their needs. But even very young children can begin to understand how their actions impact others. And this awareness becomes even more important as they get older.
The antidote to entitlement is gratitude. Research shows that gratitude helps to develop a child's sense of empathy and increases her own odds for a happier life. But just like imparting any value or life skill, teaching gratitude takes time, repetition and reinforcement.
It also requires some restraint and discipline on our part. Parents don't have to buy every single item on a child's wish list. Sometimes it's just as important to not get what you want.
Reflecting the cultural and economic mood, some parents have told me that their kids' requests to Santa were simpler this year. Many families are paring back. There is a recognition that with too much stuff, things get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes, the more you give, the less it is appreciated.
Although the McDurmonts' financial situation is stable, they also decided to cut back on purchases.
"The things we do buy are more meaningful," Laura said. "We're going to church more and doing more service projects."
They drew names with their extended family, rather than buy gifts for everyone. And she's taken to heart her friend's philosophy on raising grateful children.
Christine's cheery and chilly daughter may be the best testimonial to a parent's effort paying off. Anna said she's glad she got to ring the bell in the freezing temps: "I've been having fun doing it."
"For me, it's not about telling them," said Christine, on teaching her kids about gratitude. "It's about doing things with them."