Over the past 20 years or so, we have been witnessing the same complaint, "why do my children expect to get exactly what they ask for" or "why do they not even appreciate what I give them?" Within days they are asking for another, next great "thing" for their birthday. This is a typical reaction from a child and we as parents are responsible for teaching our children about receiving AND giving.
A good foundation begins around 2 to 3 years of age (although it is not too late to begin now if they are older). These lessons need to be experienced, not just talked about. Your child needs to be part of the process and participate firsthand.
Giving: You should explain that it makes a person feel good to give, and share your emotions during the giving process. Help them picture the receiver of the gift. Then help your child make a list of all the people close to them and decide what they would like to give each person. Here are a few suggestions for any age children (you may need to assist the very young child):
- Draw a picture/make a craft
- Make up cards that say things like "I have a hug for you," "I have a kiss for you" etc. Then they follow through with the action.
- Put on a special show (dancing/singing/magic)
- Collect interesting things from nature such as small rocks, shells, leaves, branches, etc. Have them tell you why they chose it for the person and write that down on a card to attach to the gifts.
- Give baked goods that they helped prepare/decorate
- The child can make cards for each person, explaining what the receiver means to them.
- Older children can make I.O.U. cards that say things like "Help grandpa clean the garage," "Help Uncle Joe with yard work once a week," "Read little sister Anna her favorite story when she asks." (These are tasks that are above the ordinary help they should be contributing to the family)
Receiving: You'll want to teach your children to be gracious when opening a gift. They should make eye contact with the gift giver and say thank you. If there is a card they should read it or bring the card/gift to you so you may read it with them, before opening the gift. After they have opened the gift, they need to show appreciation by saying something kind such as "Thank you," "I really like this" or "Red is my favorite." Remember: Younger kids (the ones who say the darndest things) may be very honest and should be allowed to express their disappointment, but at the same time teach them to be respectful. As a child gets older, they need to learn how to pleasantly receive a gift, even if they may not be thrilled about it, such as the Underoos and toe socks from grandma.
We were working with a family where the 3-year-old wanted a scooter and Hello Kitty slippers. Mom and Dad purchased the scooter and were knocking themselves out trying to find the exact slippers in the correct size. Mom even called her sister in another state to find them. We asked the mom why she felt that her little one needed the exact Hello Kitty slippers. This got mom thinking... She did not have a dire situation on her hands; it was a simple fact that she could not find the correct size. What's the worst that will happen? Little Suzy may be a tiny bit disappointed or extremely upset/angry, or maybe she will not notice at all. If Suzy is disappointed, Mom and Dad can simply reassure her that they love her very much and that they understand that she is sad. Later, while showing empathy, you could explain that in life we don't always get exactly what we ask for/want. Give examples of what you may have wanted but did not get, and explain the differences between what we want and really need. Do not do this while she is upset. Choose a calm time like dinnertime or while riding in the car.
How do you handle the rejection of the wonderful gift you gave your youngster? This is a very valuable learning experience that should not be taken lightly. Let's say Suzy is not only disappointed with the slippers but throws the slippers in dismay. It is your job as a parent to teach social virtues. Here is where you could gently say something like "Mommy and Daddy see that you are upset, but that is not the proper way to express your disappointment. When someone gives you a gift, it is from their heart and because they care about you. How do you think Mommy and Daddy felt when you threw the slippers?" This question gets Suzy out of her own self and requires her to think about how her actions have affected others (Mom and Dad). If Suzy does not answer or says she does not know, ask her how she would feel if she had given you a drawing she had made, then you acted mad and threw it on the floor. How would she feel? This will teach her empathy (to identify with another's feelings).
This time of year can be emotionally tough on us and our children, and popular media does little to quell the productization of the holidays. It is up to us to keep our priorities in order and remember that being with family/friends, giving (and some receiving) can create the best and most lasting holiday experience.
Happy holidays from all of us at Parent Sense, Inc.
(Editor's Note: The opinions in this article are those of Parent Sense, Inc. The opinions are not medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician about any changes you are contemplating.)