Naturally, the holidays are high-stress and jam-packed with events and gatherings. As they approach, I think of the movie “Four Christmases” and how they juggled four events in one single day. With so many events, the couple agrees to using “mistletoe” as a signal that it is time to leave. At one point, Vince Vaughn’s character, Brad, silently cries in anguish, “Mistletoe!  Mistletoe!” as his overactive adult brothers wrestle him to the ground in a headlock.

Sometimes, thinking of the holidays puts us in a headlock with these biggest holiday gift-giving boundary issues.

Problem: Family Doesn’t Respect Your Rules

It takes a village to raise children, and when some of your village is undermining you with inappropriate gifts (like a mature video game or clothes that are too revealing) it can be frustrating. Most likely, they are not purposefully disrespecting you, however it still requires some parental maneuvering.

Solution: Communicate With Your Kids

Throughout the year, have discussions about gracious way to accept unwanted gifts or gifts that are not allowed. The best way to do this is to explain to your children your reasoning. You can say, “I know that Uncle Paul plays some intense games that we don’t allow you to have.  We really feel that those games aren’t good for you.  If Uncle Paul gives you a game at Christmas that’s rated as Mature, you need to know that we will have to exchange it for a more appropriate game.”

It’s also important your child knows how to accept these gifts without making a scene, lying, or making the gift-giver feel bad.  You can coach your child to say something like, “Wow!  I don’t have this one yet!” or “Thank you for taking the time to think of me.”

Problem: Value Inequality

It happens all the time at gatherings and it is easily one  of the quickest ways to alienate adults. Someone buys very extravagant gifts, making other family members feel inferior. What if Aunt Laura brings in a new American Girl doll with all of the accessories, but Aunt Britney can only afford a few Shopkins?  

I spoke to a dear friend who explained it like this:  “I know that giving nice gifts sometimes bothers others in my family, but I don’t actually do it to show off.  I do it because I remember how it felt as a kid to see my parents fail to plan for the holidays.  I was so embarrassed to exchange a last-minute bag of holiday cookies from Kroger with someone who had obviously put a lot of thought and care into a gift for me.”  

Solution: Be Empathetic

Consider that Aunt Laura may have reasons for her extravagance other than showing off:  desire to please, fear of rejection, insecurity, or even a heartfelt desire to show her thanks and love with the nicest gift she can afford.  Changing your mindset and understanding other reasoning helps you accept this other person’s gifts without tying in your own feelings of worth.

If you notice an offended gifter, talk with them privately and say something like, “I know Laura always seems to bring these huge gifts, but I want you to know that it says nothing about how much you love us or we love you.  Gifts are just a token, but the real treasure is having you in our lives.”

Problem: Present Inequality

There’s always the perfect gift giver – the one person who always has the right gift picked out for your child, leaving your child unimpressed by their other gifts.  If Granny gives your child a new Paw Patrol set, but Nana brings a bag of organic wooden blocks, there’s bound to be a wildly different response from your kids.  

Solution: Gratitude Coaching

Preparing your children ahead of time is key.  Explain to your children that they will most likely get some amazing gifts and some mediocre gifts. Talk about this scenario in reverse, emphasizing gratitude for the intent instead of the actual gift:  “What if you spent hours making Nana a beautiful painting and she merely responded, ‘Thanks’ but then she gushed over a new car that I bought her?  You’d feel pretty sad, right?”  This encourages your child to graciously accept every gift he or she receives.

Be sure to discuss duplicate gifts, as well. Often kids will receive the same gift and blurt out, “I already have this!” Encouraging gratitude for the intent will save your children from offending other family members.

The holidays are stressful enough without adding in the dilemmas that gift giving and receiving can cause. Communication will be your saving grace.

Celeste CoffmanCeleste Coffman is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of the Quiet Mind Collective. Read her blog for more tips on managing stress and anxiety, or become a registered member to access videos, resources, and more detailed articles. Sign up for her next course Parenting Anxious Kids.

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44 Comments on Celebrate the Holidays Free of These Gift-Giving Problems

  1. These are very important topics to cover over the holidays! It can be difficult to approach these topics, but critical that everyone is on the same page.

  2. This is an important post for the holiday season. I love that you gave problems we might encounter and then solutions to help. My favorite tip was gratitude coaching.

  3. LOVE the lesson about how to accept those not-fabulous gifts. Really a smart idea. A good way to even accept anything (at any time during the year) that isnt really on the top of your wish-list – but still make the person feel valued.

  4. These are all so important. Communication is key, especially as kids get older but not to the full age where they understand boundaries you’ve set.

  5. I agree about communication – a few years I have gotten things mixed up and not known what to get and also letting your kids know what they can ask for.

  6. I love how mention communication! I so wish that a lot of this had been communicated to me as a kid growing up. And I am trying so hard to be aware of it as an adult with my nieces and nephews!

  7. I definitely agree. I feel kids nowadays feel they are obliged to receive expensive presents and that’s not how it should be. Any gift is worth it.

  8. It is important to know how to handle gifts you don’t like because ids tend to say exactly what they are feeling. I always get really nice gifts for everyone but that is not to show off. Gift giving is just one of my favorite things and I am in place where I am able to do that.

    • I know I’ve gone over the top a few times for my nieces and nephews because I had the means. Now as a parent I get how that might have felt a little hurtful. I wasn’t trying to show off, just wanted the best for the kids. 🙂

  9. Thank you for these tips. I especially relate to the gratitude coaching because it is important for me that my kids are grateful and not rude no matter what they are given.

  10. Oooo these are definitely topics we should be thinking about this time of year, even if they aren’t that pleasant!

  11. Oh these are really great parenting issues! I recently had an issue with inequity over birthday presents.

  12. These are tremendously helpful and great topics! I always talk to my daughter about how to receive gifts as well. She can become so overwhelmed by the sheer amount that she do not behave properly. These are wonderful tips for dealing with the gift giving season.

  13. The holidays are stressful enough without any extra drama. I try to keep everything happy, and drama free.

  14. I seriously love this! We just entered into the season of unwanted gifts. It’s hard because we have different rules than a lot of our family. I will definitely need to implement a lot of these tips.

  15. These are all such great tips! I really agree that it’s important to always remember to be empathetic. I think we all need to stop and think about what someone might be going through before we get upset around the holiday season. I always try to imply that into my everyday life as well!

  16. The not so fabulous gifts are definitely some of the most memorable in my book! These are all great lessons.

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