Teaching kids it’s the thought that counts

Children need help learning to appreciate gifts they don’t want

It’s a parent’s holiday nightmare: The extended family is gathered in the living room, opening piles of presents. The tearing of gift wrap stops as the kids utter the two lines you dread.

"I already have one of these!" announces your son, clutching a duplicate toy.

"This wasn’t on my list!" insists your daughter, shoving a sweater back into a box.

Your face turns redder than Santa’s suit.

So how do you avoid a holiday embarrassment and make sure your kids are gracious gift receivers this season?

"The example you can set starts as young as 2 or 3 years old," says Emily Ferguson, a children’s etiquette consultant in Chicago. "If you can teach a child how to say ‘thank you’ on a daily basis, you train the child for more than one occasion."

Kids will be less likely to criticize gifts if they understand the intentions behind giving, adds Ferguson. "[Teach them] it’s more about the act of the gift than the actual gift."

When kids get older, saying thank you isn’t enough. Ferguson says that when children start writing sentences—around ages 5 to 7—they should start writing thank-you cards. To avoid a struggle, she suggests a creative approach.

"Set up construction paper, markers, crayons—stuff they like," says Ferguson.

And, she says, don’t encourage children to lie and say they love a gift if they don’t; the key is to thank the giver for being thoughtful.

Making thank-you cards is one etiquette exercise at Manners for Minors, a workshop for children ages 5 to 12 offered at Naper Settlement in Naperville. The class also stresses that thank-you cards are not just for gifts.

"Try to think beyond the material," says Sue Cicero, education director for Naper Settlement, which will offer another Manners for Minors session in January. She says writing to thank Grandma for the visit is just as important as thanking her for the present.

Normita Donaldson’s daughter Jamesha, 9, says the tips she learned in the Manners for Minors class helped her write thank-you cards for her birthday party guests. She says the class taught her how to "put more emphasis" in her notes.

Donaldson highly recommends the class. "It’s amazing how they learned so quickly," says the Naperville mom. In addition to gift manners, Jamesha and her sister, Marchey, 12, learned phone etiquette, table manners and how to care for a pet. "I want to call or give the instructor a thank-you card," says Donaldson.

But after the giver has been thanked, what happens to an unwanted gift? Ferguson says exchanging or regifting is acceptable if it can be done with discretion. However, she says, a better approach would be to donate unwanted gifts to charity.

"If you have a child who gets a lot at Christmas," she says, "teach them how to give."

Teresa Dankowski

Chicago Parent Playdate Spring 2016

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