Who hasn’t received such a gift—a vacuum cleaner, ugly sweater, or pack of batteries? None of us has escaped the experience of receiving a gift that is unwanted. We all know the disappointment, the letdown, sometimes even anger toward the gift-giver!
As the holidays approach, well-meaning friends and family members may similarly give our children gifts that they just don’t like. Our kids may want a stuffed animal, but instead receive a pair of socks. Or they might have been hoping for that cool new remote-control car, but instead receive a pack of pencils. How do we help our children accept unwanted gifts with grace instead of a grimace?
Set a Good Example. Model for your children how to accept gifts and cards with appreciation. For instance, when your children bring home handmade holiday gifts from school, comment on the thoughtfulness and the intention behind the gift.
“I love how you remembered my favorite colors when making this card,” or “I love how much time you spent creating this ornament.” Focusing on the sentiment, rather than the gift itself, demonstrates the meaning behind exchanging gifts.
Practice Gratitude. Share gratitude for the little things with your children. Demonstrate that it feels good to be thankful for things like a hot shower on a cold evening or a hug from a close friend.
We can be thankful for many of the tiny, inexpensive, ordinary moments in life, and our gratitude tranforms them into extraordinary experiences. This teaches children that we can experience gratitude everywhere, not just in expensive toys or grand trips to Disneyland.
Help Children Find Their Words. Children are often completely honest with their impressions, even at the expense of another person’s feelings. For example, especially at a young age, they might comment on an individual’s unusual appearance or how they don’t like the food at Grandma’s house.
A simple phrase such as “Are your words kind, true, and necessary?” can be easy for kids to remember.
As parents, we can also help children practice in advance how they would handle receiving gifts that they don’t want, don’t like, or already have. First ask them what they would say in such a situation, and give them the opportunity to problem-solve.
Then, as parents, we can step in and make suggestions accordingly: “That sounds great. Perhaps you may want to also remember to say ‘thank you’ even if you didn’t necessarily like the gift.”
Invite Then to Tell You Their True Feelings. We want to teach children to be gracious in accepting gifts from others and encourage gratitude and kind manners. However, we also want to let them know that they can always come to their parents, or another trusted adult, with their true thoughts and feelings when the time is right.
This reminds them that we always want to understand their inner world and experiences without their having to filter out something as “unacceptable.”
We can say to them, for example: “When we are at Aunt Mary’s house, let’s try to be polite even if you don’t particularly want what you got. Once we come home, I would love to hear everything that you felt about your gifts.” The bigger-picture message here is that, as parents, they can come to us with anything, and we will always do our best to listen and guide them.
Encourage Community Service. Although gift-giving is an important part of holidays, it is not the most important part. Holidays are about giving to others and being thankful for what we are blessed with.
Community service allows us to share that generosity of spirit in the ways that feel most important to us. Allow your kids to participate in age-appropriate community-service activities around the holidays. They might enjoy volunteering at a food bank or a soup kitchen or perhaps spending time with animals at a local shelter.
Volunteering takes the focus off gifts, and helps children understand that it can feel even better to give than to receive. Volunteering can also help children appreciate the value of all that we have, rather than wanting more.
Gift-giving and receiving can be an enjoyable part of the holidays. Helping your children understand the meaning behind gifts and to accept all gifts with appreciation can minimize potentially stressful or embarrassing situations. A little perspective and practice can go a long way in helping kids accept that new pair of socks with grace.
Monisha Vasa, M.D., is a board-certified general and addiction psychiatrist in private practice in Orange County, Calif. She is the author of non-fiction children’s books, a marathon runner, and student of yoga and meditation. Learn more about Dr. Vasa at MonishaVasa.com and read her blog on The Huffington Post