Illustration for article titled How Can You Teach Your Kids to Receive Gifts Graciously?

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As we approach the biggest gift-giving time of year, kids are bound to experience the anticipatory excitement this month brings, the thrill of tearing into all that paper and, yes, even a bit of disappointment. (“Socks?? I don’t want socks!”)

We adults know how to be gracious about receiving a gift we don’t particularly care for, but we weren’t always this way. We too were once blunt little beings who had not yet developed the impulse control required to mask our distaste for that ugly sweater from Aunt May. And yet, it’s embarrassing to be the parent of the kid who very clearly doesn’t like what a loved one gave them.

I asked the parents of our Offspring Facebook group how they’d managed to instill gracious gift-receiving skills in their kids, and they had some excellent ideas for how to practice this in the lead-up to the holidays.

Julie says she turns it into a game:

I would hand the kids a sock or tell them in the car on the way to a gift-giving event, “Here, I just gifted you a Brussels sprout” or something, and they would have to respond. “Thank you! These socks are great! They are very soft and I am sure will be super warm!” or “Thanks! I love Brussels sprouts!” or whatever. We’d have some fun trying to stump them with really lame or out-there items. “Wow! A LEGO set! That you already built! Thats going to save me some time!”

And Christina teaches her kids by giving them the experience of receiving gracious responses for gifts they’ve picked out:

We take our kiddos shopping at a dollar store every year (all kids in our family do this). We take a list of all family and friends to buy for. They choose one thing for each person on the list. We take it all home and put each item in a paper lunch sack, label and decorate. We save their gifts as the last on Christmas morning. They pass each gift out and stand near waiting to see the expression of the recipient. (It became a game for the adults to give the best reaction without going over the top.) The kids are so excited and proud, it really cuts down on jealousy and attitude because they are so excited to pass out/give their own gifts.

Meanwhile, Lisa focuses on how not to react with this visual reminder:

Every year before Christmas, we show our kids a home video from the Christmas when my husband was 12 and his sister was 7. She gets everything she wanted, is super excited and happy. Then he gets a boombox, which I suppose she thought was “cooler” than her dolls, and she starts throwing a full-on tantrum on the video. We use it as a cautionary tale, and also at this point, it’s a family tradition!

(Lisa says her sister-in-law is fine with being the bad example here.)

Sometimes, mercifully, kids will deliver their negative reaction to us privately, which provides us an opportunity to talk through it, like Aimee did:

For her 5th birthday, [my daughter] received an embroidered unicorn pillow. It is pretty cool but she was not impressed. She said “thank you” to the giver and then later she tearfully told me that it was a terrible present because, “You’re not supposed to get pillows for your birthday, a pillow is a terrible birthday present.” We talked about how much the giver likes decorative pillows and how they choose a special decoration that they believed Adeline would like. That led us to talking about thoughtfulness and being thankful for the people in our lives because of their love and thoughtfulness rather than what we can get from them. This conversation was led by her, I affirmed her feelings of surprise and disappointment and let her talk through the situation. Mostly I asked questions like, do you think (the giver) thought this was a terrible gift? Why do you think they might have chosen this gift? We talked briefly at the party but most of this happened over the next few days.

Talking through simple, polite responses to receiving gifts ahead of time (smiling and saying, “thank you”), allowing them to participate in giving their own gifts—and then understanding that, developmentally, it can take years for a child to be able to see the situation from the other person’s perspective—is a good start. But we could all use a few more tactics for helping our kids keep their negative reactions in check.

So tell us: How did you instill graciousness in your kids? What’s the worst reaction they ever had to a gift they received, and how did you handle it on the spot and afterward?


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