Young children can experience a wealth of emotions when processing the gift-giving season. Receiving a gift is exciting and magical but may also feel overwhelming or confusing. Expectations from onlookers as presents are opened require a performative aspect that some children may not enjoy or know how to handle. Here are a few ways to support your child and foster a sense of appreciation for the holidays as gifts are received.
Involve kids in purchasing and wrapping gifts
Involve your child in picking out and wrapping presents for certain people. My children and I have a ritual of wrapping gifts with the classic brown wrapping paper so they can write the recipient’s name directly on top and decorate with pictures or stickers to personalize the gifts.
Each child also has a small spending amount to go pick out a surprise gift for their sibling. Investing your child in the actual present will connect them with the idea of giving and generosity. Picking out a present together or talking about why a gift might suit a certain person will teach your child the thoughtfulness behind the offering.
Role-play receiving presents with your child. Act it out together, so your child will understand the graciousness of what it looks like and how they can properly respond when someone gives a present. Take turns pretending to give a gift, and model saying “thank you!” for your child.
Talk about it afterward and share your own stories
Ask your children if they can recall what their friend or family member said when they received the gift. Name the emotions for them: “Aunt Catie looked so delighted when you gave her that book. It must have made her feel so much joy!” Children love recalling past experiences and memories, so they will enjoy hearing about how people felt when they were surprised with a gift. Share stories with them about receiving gifts you loved, as well as gifts you were unsure of. Let them know how you handled it.
There’s an additional message they should also learn here. Even if they’re not excited or happy with the gift presented, it’s still important to politely say thank you or offer appreciation in a way that feels natural. You can share with them “You may be getting presents from family soon. They may not know exactly what you like and may have chosen something that doesn’t look like something you may be interested in. What’s important is that you thank them when they give you the gift. When someone gives you a present, it means they care about you and want you to feel happy. We always find ways to say thank you!” Giving a hug, writing a thank you letter or practicing verbal ways to say “thank you” will further your child’s empathy and sense of gratitude.
It’s not about the gift
Tell your child that when someone gives you something, it means they were thinking of you. Express your own gratitude and appreciation so your child will hear those emotions being modeled. Write thank you letters together, or if your child is not of writing age, transcribe for them what they wish to say and they can draw a picture to accompany the words. Call or FaceTime friends and relatives together to offer thanks and demonstrate loving behavior. And because children emulate the actions and language modeled for them, set the example by expressing your own gratitude when you receive presents this holiday season.