Gifts and Your Child:
Guidelines for Parents
This article was first published Dec 10, 2012, by the retired website, Women & Co., sponsored by Citibank.
and Your Child: 6 Guidelines for Parents
For Women & Co., by Karen L. Rancourt,
Ph.D., Ask Dr. Gramma
These six guidelines can help parents make
giving and getting gifts more fun and enjoyable for their child, as well as for
their child’s gift givers:
1. Help your child
create a “gift wish list.”
At a very young age, children learn to
start a sentence with “I want…a new game, a certain toy, an electronic device.”
Keep a running list of all these I-want items for your child and each time she
says, “I want…”, you say, “Fine. Let’s add it to your gift wish list and then
we can consider it as a birthday or holiday gift.”
This approach honors your child’s
desire to want something without forcing you to take any immediate action. Then
when appropriate gift-giving time is on the horizon, you can prioritize the
wish list with your child — some items will drop off and others will be added.
When grandparents and others ask what they can get for your child, you
reference her gift wish list. In some instances, especially for older kids
saving up for something more expensive, you can suggest that the gift giver
contribute towards the purchase of the desired item.
In all cases, keeping a gift wish list
for your child has several benefits: it helps him learn deferred gratification;
it cuts down on disappointments; it eliminates the exchange frenzy; it helps
gift givers feel confident that they’re giving something that is truly of value
or interest to a child.
2. Expand the wish
list to include events and experiences.
Your child’s gift givers typically
think of purchasing something material, but including on the wish list events
and experiences as gifts can be incredibly enriching and valuable. Suggest to
grandparents that they plan a special day with your child for her birthday.
Think how excited your child will be to learn that as a gift Grandma and
Grandpa are taking her to the circus, or to the latest Disney movie followed by
pancakes at the local diner, or for art lessons at the museum, or to rent a
boat in Central Park, or to see a Broadway production. The possibilities are
Also, doing things together are gifts
that can delight your child and create lasting and cherished memories, e.g.,
making Grandpa’s special cookies with him, learning to knit with Grandma,
scrapbooking with Aunt Linda, woodworking with Uncle Hank. In addition to these
being gifts that your child will always remember with love and fondness, they
are gifts that your budget-conscious gift givers can feel good about, both
financially and emotionally.
graciousness and gratitude when receiving gifts.
Children often need parental help in
accepting gifts graciously. Prior to your child’s opening his or her birthday
or holiday presents, review with the cardinal rule of accepting gifts: “Even if
you are disappointed, always look at the gift giver and say ‘Thank you, this is
a wonderful gift!” Practice this with your child before the opening of gifts:
“Let’s be clear. What are you going to say and do after you open each gift?”
You can also help your child be a
gracious gift receiver by handing him or her each gift to be opened, making
sure each card is opened and read. This cuts down on the out-of-control, crazed
jumping from one gift to the next and not appropriately acknowledging the gift and
the gift giver.
There may be times you will want to prepare
your child in advance for a certain disappointment: “Your godmother tried very
hard to get you something in the color you would have preferred, but she wasn’t
able to, so you need to remember to be pleased when you open her gift, even
though you may really be feeling disappointed.”
Another way to teach graciousness and
gratitude in receiving gifts is to space out when they are given. Of course
you’ll want your child’s gift givers to enjoy watching the gift being opened in
their presence whenever possible, but there may be times you can withhold some
gifts for “a rainy day” (literally and figuratively).
For example, if you bought your child
several holiday presents, you may think about not giving them all out during
the holidays, but rather, save some of them and present them during the
following weeks: “Oh, what a yucky day this is. We cannot go to the park and
play, but I have a surprise for you. Daddy and I put aside one of your holiday
presents and today seems like a mighty fine time to give you a ‘rainy day’
If you do this enough, instead of your
child saying, “I’m bored,” you may find him asking if you happen to have any
“rainy day” presents around. If you do, you may want to pull one out. Rainy day
presents can be an easy and creative way to deal with an overabundance of
presents, as well as increase awareness of and gratitude for each and every
4. Emphasize the joy
of giving gifts.
Although getting pleasure from giving
to others comes easier to some children than to others, all kids can benefit
from being provided opportunities to be the gift giver. Example: “Daddy’s
birthday is coming up.” Saying “What can we do to make it a special day for
him?” is a very different question from “What can we buy him?” There is
certainly nothing wrong with thinking about purchases for him, but
brainstorming and planning special things to do for and with Daddy helps your
child appreciate the joy that comes from giving and making someone happy.
Even if your child is too young to
offer much in the way of ideas for making Daddy’s birthday special, you sharing
your ideas can help build the right foundation. “We can make Daddy his favorite
breakfast and serve it to him in bed, we can draw special birthday placemats
for the table and make him the spaghetti dinner he loves, we can buy him that
new golf club he’s been eyeing and make our own wrapping paper for it, we can
rent his favorite family video and watch it together while we eat popcorn, we
can make him a special birthday hat that says he’s the best daddy in the world,
we can invite Grandma and Grandpa over and each of us can decorate the cupcakes
we make any way we want…”, and the list goes on.
It’s all about doing things that will
bring joy to someone else, and the more your child is part of the planning
special things for someone else, the greater the chances are that she will want
to repeat the fun and pleasure that comes from putting a smile on someone
5. Make thank you
notes a natural and expected part of the process.
While gifts are being opened, make
sure someone is keeping a list of who has given which gift, as this list will come
in handy for writing thank you notes. All gifts, be they purchases, events or
experiences, merit a thank you note. If
the gift giver can invest the time and emotional energy (and money, if it’s a
purchased gift), then your child can certainly find the time to show her gratitude
in an appropriate way – with an old-fashioned, low tech, hand-written thank you
note. It’s also recommended that only a couple notes a day be written to make
the task feel more doable, especially for the younger children.
For the pre-literate child, I suggest the parent writes out
the complete thank you note and then, by way of signature, traces the child’s
hand or does a finger paint print. For the child with some writing skills, the
parent can write out the bulk of the note and the child can sign his name and
affix some “xxoo’s”. Most older kids can write the whole note alone, but for
younger ones just mastering writing and spelling, I suggest a parent sit beside
their child to offer help with spacing and spelling. I think it’s a good idea
for the child to always use a pencil to write their notes to ease erasing
inevitable errors and not having to start from scratch, a sure activity spoiler.
Picking out the thank you note can be
something your child can participate in, from selecting ready-made ones, to
hand making them, to computer-created ones. Personalizing the thank you notes
can be fun for your child if you provide some stickers, markers, construction
paper, and glue. Remind your child that many of his thank-you notes are going
to end up posted on a refrigerator, so he’ll want to send something which he
can be proud to have on display.
6. Be a good role
model for giving and receiving gifts.
This is probably the hardest guideline
to apply. As any parent or educator knows, children are always influenced more
by what adults actually say and do, rather than by what we espouse we should be
doing. If you want to teach your child certain values and behaviors about
giving and getting gifts, then you need to consistently model those values and
Being a good model means that as the
predictably ugly tchotchke from your aunt arrives every December, all your
child should see from you is your appreciation, so he or she can remember it in
such a nice way.
If you want to emphasize that spending
time together with your child is as valuable a gift as getting a Tiffany’s gift
certificate, then tell your child that going to the zoo and having lunch
together is what you really want for your birthday or holiday gift.
And finally, make sure your child
receives a thank you note from you about the special time you had together at
the zoo, the lovely lunch that followed, and that you look forward to your next