It’s that time of year. Christmas is over and it’s time to pack away all the Christmas decorations and find spots in your house for all the new gifts under the tree. But if you are like me, as you are pulling gifts out from under the tree, you are reminded of some awkward moments when your kids opened the gifts. Like when your 8 year old couldn’t hide his disdain for the puppy sweater from Great Aunt Martha or your 6 your old shouted “we already have this” as he opened up yet another board game. Not only do you feel mortified when your kid isn’t polite when opening a gift, teaching your children appropriate responses when opening gifts is just another thing to add to your never ending “Parenting To-Do List”.
Polite statements when opening gifts
So, how do we handle this? How do we teach our children polite statements to say when opening Christmas and other holiday gifts? Well, this is a bit of a touchy subject in our house because not only do I love to give gifts myself and I know the heartbreak first hand when a gift isn’t well received, but my husband is much more practical than I am. He doesn’t believe that we should gush over a gift if we don’t care for it. Not only are we teaching our children to “lie”, but we are encouraging Great Aunt Martha to buy us another puppy sweater.
Because my husband and I both believe in teaching our children honesty above all else, I realized that we had to get creative when teaching our children polite statements to say when opening gifts. So for the last few years before Christmas, birthdays and other gift giving holidays, we have practiced coming up a few honest statements that shouldn’t leave Great Aunt Martha crying into a puppy sweater.
The first thing we do is create practice opportunities for these skills because talking and lecturing your kids isn’t nearly as effective as practicing something first hand. At the beginning of the holiday season, my kids love wrapping presents as part of the preparation for the holidays. They run around the house gathering up old toys and books and wrapping them up with last year’s Christmas wrapping paper and what seems like an entire roll of scotch tape. Not only does this activity entertain them for quite a while, but it creates a perfect practice opportunity to teach them some creative, honest statements when opening gifts. Sometimes, after my kids have “wrapped” (I think you know I use that term loosely) several items, we sit down and open the presents together. What a perfect opportunity to practice polite statements to something you already own, when it actually IS something you already own! ;) I usually model some phrases and then the kids get a turn.
Here are some honest, polite statements that the kids and I have come up with to use when you open a gift you already have:
(The first part is the spoken part, the parentheses contain the unspoken phrase that often is the key to making the original statement true):
1. I love these! (because I already have it) Thank you!
2. Oh, this game is great, I have played it before (because I have it). I can’t wait to play it again! Thank you!
3. Oh fun, my brother has it and I have always wanted my own! Thank you!
4. Oh I have always wanted this (and got it already), thank you!
5. Oh yay, how fun! Thank you!
A different game we play that helps us learn what to say when opening a Christmas gift that we don’t care for (like the puppy sweater) is called “Describe the Object”. We take different random items from around the house (the more bizarre the better!) and brainstorm positive characteristics about them. We each take turns making a positive, polite statement about the object until no one can think of anymore. This one always leaves us in fits of laughter by the end as sometimes you have to get REALLY creative. The other day my 12 year came up with “Thank you so much for giving me this gift that’s not on fire” which had us in tears of laughter because he was using the most positive, thankful voice! Because it’s true, the key to this one is in the tone of voice. If you say the statement in an excited way, the gift giver will sense your joy and excitement over simply receiving a gift (because that’s what this is really about) and will be pleased by that.
Honest and polite statements when you don’t care for the gift you just opened:
(Again, the parentheses contain the unspoken phrase that is the key to making the original statement true)
*Remember, it is especially important here that you use an enthusiastic tone of voice
1. Oh, wow! I have seen this before! (doesn’t mean I liked it) Thank you!
2. I was just looking at this the other day! (and thinking how awful it was) Thank you for getting me one!
3. How fun! (for someone else) Thank you!
4. Oh, I don’t have any of these (and I never will)! Thank you for picking it out for me!
5. I have always wanted/needed something like this (something LIKE it, not this one, but LIKE this), thank you!
**This is also where we add in descriptive words in a positive tone of voice. I.E. When opening the puppy sweater, I might add that it looks so cozy or warm or I love the color (if I do). This is also where I like to jump in as a parent and help my child if they are struggling on their own. I might say, “Oh look, doesn’t that feel warm?” Or won’t this be perfect for that trip to the snow we have coming up?” Being a part of the gift opening process with your child really helps them to be more successful and polite in the process.
But ultimately, I tell my kids if they can’t come up with something nice (and mostly truthful!) to say, simply stop, look at the gift giver in the eye and say thank you. Express gratitude. Give a hug or a smile or a high five or whatever they feel comfortable with. But show that person that you appreciate him or her and the effort and thought that went into buying that gift for you. And that will always be enough.
Now while these statements may help your child to say something honest and polite, what about my husband’s concern that if you act excited over a gift, then the gift giver will continue to buy you similar items? I think every family has different views on this, but if an opportunity arises at a later time (especially if it’s a size issue!) and there is a tactful, kind way to express your opinions about your personal style and taste, then go for it, if you think it is appropriate.
Despite the laughter and fun we have with the topic of gifts, what I try to teach my kids is that the bottom line is that someone is giving them a gift. And we need to be grateful for the thought and effort that went into that, no matter what it is. With the entitled generation of children we are raising, I think it’s important to teach our children gratitude for anything they are lucky enough to receive. There are children who would be over the moon to receive that puppy sweater or board game and I try and teach my kids that without guilt or negativity. We also talk about if it isn’t their style or taste; maybe we can spread some of the joy of that gift by giving it to someone in need.
What about you? How do you handle gift opening in your house? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with the rest of us? We always love to hear new ideas about what worked for you!