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Preparing Children for Gift Receiving and Gift Opening During the Holidays

Teaching Gracious Behavior While Receiving and Opening Gifts


It’s not uncommon for children to not always be the best at receiving gifts, especially if it’s not exactly what they had in mind. Foster children sometimes need even more coaching as many of them lack every day, basic manners. Here are some tips on how to help your children with some of the more commonly received gifts.

The Gifts That Seem to Cause a Negative Reaction

  1. Receiving Socks – Sometimes children receive the practical gifts. Their eyes go from wide-eyed excitement to crushing disappointment once the wrapping paper is ripped away and items that are necessary, but not necessarily fun are revealed. This is probably the hardest lesson to teach and to learn, because socks, or vacuum cleaners, are important and needed, but not that exciting to receive – not even with a fancy bow on top.

  2. Receiving a Knock-off – One Christmas our foster daughter opened up a “Barbie” doll, but it wasn’t a real Barbie. It was a generic, Barbie-type doll and my foster daughter knew the difference. She threw a fit, pouted and cried, right there in front of the gift giver, my husband’s grandmother. I wish I would have done a better job in helping the child to see the importance of being remembered with a gift, before the family event.

  3. Receiving a Lot – It is often thought that foster children are forgotten on the holidays. This is not always the case. Some foster children receive a bunch of gifts, especially when they have an active birth family. It’s not uncommon for foster children to not only get gifts from their birth family, but to also receive gifts from the foster family. Many organizations also contribute to foster children in the community. This leaves many foster children with more presents than the other children within the foster family. This may lead to taunting or just plain jealousy.

  4. Receiving a Little - Then there are the moments when the foster children do not receive as much as other children in the home, especially if there are foster children from two different birth families. Again, this leaves opportunity for children to start comparing gifts and feeling may get hurt.

  5. This Isn’t What I Wanted – It’s the same issue that is seen with any child, foster or otherwise. A child may have asked Santa for a pony and receive a stuffed pony instead. This may be the perfect opportunity for children to practice being thankful for what they have received, instead of being a bit picky.

Tips on How to Teach Gracious Gift Receiving

Practice opening and receiving gifts. Consider making a game out of opening gifts that may not be any fun to receive. Try wrapping a few kitchen items like a cheese grater, a slotted spoon, or something from the spice rack. Remind your children before they begin opening the gifts that these items are only for practice and not for keeps. Explain while they are opening the gifts, that while these items may not be any fun, they are very important and needed in the kitchen. The same can be true for some presents. For example: we will always need socks and vacuum cleaners.

Say thank you and smile. Remind your children to always say thank you after opening every gift, even if they are not thrilled with what they find inside. If some children are really struggling with this concept, consider role playing opening gifts and make a game out of who can be the most sincerely gracious. The Guide to Etiquette offers 10 tips for teaching children manners.

Remember service to others. Bring focus from what they have received back to helping others. Volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen, bake goodies for organizations, or bag up gently used items and donate to needy charities. There are lots of opportunities to help others. Ask your local church or synagogue for ideas or call the United Way for volunteer opportunities.

Don't forget to be a gift giver too. Make sure your foster children are given the opportunity to give gifts to others. I can’t think of a better way for children to learn how to receive gifts, then to learn how to give gifts. Explain to your child how buying a gift is about thinking about what someone else would want, and then trying to meet that need. Explain how watching a person opening a gift and seeing their excitement at being remembered is a present back to the gift giver. Try to process with your child while shopping to make sure they are truly thinking of the gift receiver. After the gift-exchange do more processing with your child and talk about how their gift was appreciated and how that made the child feel.

Be aware of the post-holiday blues. Remember that your foster children or adopted children are away from birth family. They may have many memories of past holidays, which may trigger developmental grieving. The Guide to Preschoolers has a number of ideas on how to handle the post-holiday let down that many of us feel. While the article is geared to younger children, I feel that a number of the tips offered are valid for any age.

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