It's a common problem. On one side are well-meaning relatives—grandparents, aunties and uncles—who want to shower the kids with gifts. On the other side are parents trying to raise children who aren't spoiled or want to keep their home free of clutter. Here's how to let go of the stress and embrace joy by setting healthy gift boundaries for the whole family.
TALK ABOUT IT. Start by talking to your partner and getting on the same page about how much is too much. What feels right for your family? What values are you trying to teach your kids?
Parents often want to instill values they grew up with. They wonder what happened to the parents (now grandparents) who taught them to be grateful for what they have instead of wanting or expecting more. If that's true for you, enlist the help of relatives to carry on that family value.
Or, if you're trying to live more simply than how you were raised, take time to explain why it's important that your children learn to be content with less.
Share articles about how clearing away clutter gives children more room for creativity and imagination. When you see examples of this with your children, share those stories to help relatives feel connected and inspired to believe that less really is more when it comes to making kids happy.
-->Want to learn more about this? Read how having and doing less benefits kids in the article, “Simplify Life to Help Your Family Thrive” at www.sandiegofamily.com/parenting/how-to-simplify-family-life.
Expressing your wishes about gift-giving might feel uncomfortable, especially if you're concerned about hurting feelings or not being taken seriously. Don't let that dissuade you. The first time your child asks a relative, "What did you bring me?" you'll wish you'd spoken up sooner. Plus, setting boundaries around gift-giving sets the precedence for honoring other boundaries, such as respecting your parenting style, limiting sweets or discouraging too much screen time. Once you've had one conversation about boundaries, the next will be easier.
SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES. It's important to recognize that gift-giving relatives are expressing love for your children. You can help them channel that love in other ways that build strong family bonds.
In the best-selling book The Five Love Languages of Children, counselor Gary Chapman and psychiatrist Ross Campbell identify ways children (all people) speak and understand emotional love. Yes, gifts made the list, but Chapman and Campbell advise parents to share other ways kids feel loved.
Encourage ideas like cuddling while watching a movie, telling children what makes them special, spending one-on-one time together, teaching a new skill or sharing a common interest. These are acts of love that encourage presence, not presents.
GUIDE THE GIVERS. Not knowing what to buy a grandchild or beloved niece or nephew can be just as frustrating and disappointing to the relative as it is to children. Feelings are hurt when well-meaning relatives ask children how they liked their gift and receive an honest answer (kids can't help it!). Eliminate this dilemma by communicating clearly what will bring smiles to everyone.
Suggested gift-giving guidelines:
- Ask for experience gifts such as zoo tickets or a children's museum membership.
- Limit the number of gifts.
- Ask that some gifts stay with relatives for when the kids visit.
- Ask for books instead of toys.
- Share a list of items kids need or love.
- Ask if they’d like to gift dance classes or summer camp.
If your family is not into sharing lists, try gently guiding purchases by saying something like, "Carter wants you to know that Paw Patrol is the coolest thing in his life right now." Or, "The kids love arts and crafts and need more supplies."
COMPROMISE WITH GRACE. You've said what you needed to say, but the gifts keep coming. Now what? Here are reasons it might be OK to let down your guard occasionally:
1. Giving and receiving gifts teaches kids about generosity. Children learn by watching the adults in their lives, and generosity is contagious. Talk about the thoughtfulness and kindness that gift-giving expresses and include kids when choosing gifts for friends and loved ones.
2. Receiving gifts gives kids a chance to practice gratitude. Help kids learn how to show appreciation by sending a thank you note, text or phone call. Teach kids to be specific about what they like about the gift and acknowledge the giver's love and generosity.
3. When gifts aren't quite right, children can learn the essential social skill of how to be gracious. "Sometimes children may receive a gift they already have or it isn't something they would’ve picked for themselves," says Lisa Howe, a San Diego parenting coach. "Being a gracious receiver means saying ‘thank you’ rather than ‘I already have that!’"
Setting healthy boundaries with gift-giving relatives is a chance to reduce stress and embrace joy, whether your family is celebrating the holidays, a birthday or other special occasion. Whatever guidelines you choose, reassure the people who love your children that they are loved in return and that the relationship they have with your kids means more than any gift ever could.
Jody Lee Cates is a local San Diego mom and the award-winning writer of our “Parenting with Purpose” column.