When my children were small and my parents would come visit, their suitcases were usually full of gifts. Embarrassingly, as soon as they walked in the door, my children would dutifully give a hug and kiss and then promptly ask, “Where’s my present?” even before my parents’ coats were off.
I am not the only one who has children who exhibit this type of behavior. Parents have a lot of examples, especially around Chanukah time:
“My son got a gift for Chanukah from my cousin. After he opened it he told her he already had that toy and he didn’t need another one.”
Or: “My grandmother knit my daughter a beautiful green sweater. She had been working on it forever. My daughter told her that she would have liked a blue one better.”
We can console ourselves that these children are not necessarily greedy or even entitled, just socially clueless. There are some children who innately understand the rules of receiving gifts, but many children just don’t.
The fact is, children are impulsive. They say what is on their mind. They don’t have the social graces to keep their thoughts to themselves. They don’t have a filter that helps them understand what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to say aloud. Not only that, they have a hard time understanding others’ feelings. They also don’t have the easiest time regulating their feelings, so when they are disappointed, (by not getting the color sweater they wanted or by getting a duplicate toy) they may just blurt out exactly what they are feeling.
There is also another issue, which is mostly our fault. Our children are inundated with gifts. Thank goodness, many children have grandparents and great grandparents who are alive and well and ready to give. As parents, we are also guilty of giving our children a lot more stuff than previous generations did. When we get so much it is hard to be grateful for what we have. Not only that, our children expect that they will always be getting gifts because they always have. This makes them look selfish, greedy and entitled.
We don’t have to just throw up our hands in frustration. It is not all gloom and doom. We can train our kids to act appropriately. We can clue them in to how to accept all the gifts they do get gracefully and teach them an attitude of gratefulness.
Here are 4 ways to do that:
1. Role playing:
One way to teach your children to act politely when it is gift giving time, is to role play with them.
For example, after my parents went home, I sat down with my kids and gently explained to them that we had to rework what we do when Grandma and Zaidie come for a visit. I told them that when they walk in the door there are 4 things that they need to do:
a. Give them a hug and kiss.
b. Ask them if they could help take their bags (Even if the bag is too heavy for them, I told them it was still polite to ask.)
c. Then they need to say, “Let me take you to your room.”
d. They then needed to wait patiently and not ask about their presents.
We also spoke about the fact that the whole time they are doing all these polite things, they might be thinking to themselves, “Where’s my present? I wonder what they got me! I can’t wait for my present!” But they weren’t allowed to say it, even though it might be very hard to keep that inside.
I explained to them that it’s even hard for adults, that the whole time, I am also thinking, “Where’s my cherry cheese knish from Amnon’s! I really want that now!” But I don’t say it, because it is not polite.
We then role-played. We took turns playing Grandma and Zaidie coming to the door and practiced pretending to take their bags and showing them to their rooms. You can have fun with this. When it was my turn to play the child, I made some mistakes, (i.e.,I opened the door and said in a rude voice, “Hey! Where is my cherry cheese knish?”) so that they could correct me.
We did this whole role-play again when it came closer to another visit from their grandparents.
The next time my parents came for a visit, their behavior was picture perfect. I was proud of them and they were proud of themselves.
2. An Ounce of Prevention:
If you don’t have time for a whole roleplaying session, you can just sit down with your kids before your next Chanukah party and explain to them the most gracious way to accept gifts. You might think it is silly, but again, many children really don’t understand the ins and outs of social niceties. They need to be taught explicitly.
We can start by stressing the importance of not hurting the gift giver’s feelings. You can explain that when someone is giving us a gift and being so nice to us, we want to be extra careful to make sure we act grateful.
You can then review some appropriate things to say, when they receive gifts like:
“Thanks so much!”
“I love the color green!”
“I really wanted this!”
“I know I will enjoy reading this!”
You can then review some things you should not say:
“How much did this present cost?”
“Not another sweater!”
“I already have this!”
Make sure to let them know that if they don’t like the gift they should still say thank you and something nice about the gift. Sometimes children are so literal. They might need help understanding that it is not lying to say something nice about the gift even if they really don’t like it.
3. Damage control:
What if you role-play or review all the rules and they still do not act appropriately?
You can gently state your expectations:
“It is expected when you get a gift, even if it isn’t what you wanted, that you say thank you. Remember we spoke about this?”
When they are act inappropriately because they are disappointed you can empathize, state our expectations and let them know they can come to you:
“You sound disappointed about the toy. It’s not what you wanted. However, when someone buys you something you need to say thank you. If it is too hard for you to hold in your disappointment, you can come to me and tell me very quietly.”
4. Teach kids to write Thank You notes:
One of the best ways to teach children to be grateful and unentitled is to have them to write thank you notes for all the gifts they have gotten. Young children can draw pictures and dictate their thoughts while you write them down. Bonus: Young kids love putting a stamp on and licking the envelope. A trip to the mailbox can also be a treat.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.