6 Rules for Stress-Free Gift-Giving

How to give gifts to kids

When it comes to giving gifts, there are more questions than you might realize:  What counts as a gift? Are there strings attached? What are our own expectations about how the gift is received or used? Or how it should be treated?

In my experience, taking a moment to think about some of these questions has been very helpful, both in gifting to my own kids (no matter what their age), as well as to anyone else.

To me, a gift is just that – something I give to someone with no expectation of anything in return. It is when we start piling  a lot of expectations – onto ourselves or onto the recipient – that we create undue stress around gift-giving.

When I follow these 6 rules, giving gifts is so much more fun:

  1. Create Guidelines. Whether it’s the number of gifts, or the budget for a particular holiday, knowing what your guidelines are up front allows for more clear decision-making. Share the guidelines with your children so they know what to expect when they make their wish list. For young children, it might be one “big gift” and a few “little gifts.” Consider sharing their list with grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles. This can relieve some of the burden on you as a parent.
  2. Avoid Judgment. Kids don’t feel good if they think you don’t like the things that they want. If you have a concern or question about a particular item on the wish list, try asking your child about it. “I looked at your list, Sweetie. What is it about a wind-up Chihuahua that you really like?” When you invite your child to talk about what they want, you’re getting a window into their excitement. 
  3. Make Peace with Impracticality. Most parents try to sneak a little practicality into some gifts – like that winter coat he needs anyway.However, part of the fun of getting a gift is receiving something you don’t necessarily need. If your child does need some new, practical thing, maybe let them pick out something a little out of the ordinary. For instance, instead of a plain pair of new sneakers, let them choose special ones – pricier or more whimsical — that you wouldn’t buy for them otherwise.
  4. Give Without Expectations. Imagine how you’ll feel if that beautiful sweater you bought your daughter ends up in a ball on the floor of her closet. If that makes you  angry, you have  an expectation. A true gift is something the recipient can do with as she pleases. She can lend it to friends, she can resell it, she can cut it up if she chooses. This is a tough one, but one that will ultimately bring you a lot of peace.
  5. Respect What’s on Their List. If your child wants a blue truck, just do your best to get her the blue truck. It doesn’t matter that the red truck wchristmas listill go better with her bedroom rug. She doesn’t want a red truck,Mom. She wants blue.
  6. Consider Experiential Gifts. In my family, we often use gift-giving as an opportunity to do something special as a family or for the kids to try an activity they’ve never done before. Maybe everyone goes to the circus or to a show — Sesame Street Live, or Frozen on Ice. For older kids, how about tickets to see a favorite band? One year my entire family went skeet shooting! Looking forward to an event and the memories it generates extends the joy of giving.  And, don’t forget about experiences right at home. Your kids will love turning in “coupons” for special activities with you. 

Finally, don’t forget gifts that give back. Maybe each child gets to choose an organization and you all make a family donation to a good cause. This is a great way to help your kids to grow their gratitude muscles and think about how to help others (a known recipe for long-term happiness). Help younger kids find organizations based on things they care about. Do they want to help animals? Children in the hospital? The environment? Veterans? If you’re donating food or time, bring your kids with you. It’s an incredible opportunity for them to partake in gift giving, too.

Updated December 2020



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