Gift exchanges and self-control: 5 trouble spots for kids

Opening presents is supposed to be fun, not frustrating. But for kids who struggle with self-control, getting and giving gifts can be tricky. Here’s what to look out for before a gift exchange, and tips to make it go more smoothly.

1. Spoiling the surprise

The situation: While handing a wrapped present to a family member, your child blurts out, “It’s a jewelry box!”

Plan-ahead strategy: Practice how to receive and give gifts. That includes what to say and not say. Remind your child that the surprise is the best part of a gift.

On-the-spot response: “Let’s try to keep the present a secret next time. It’s fun to see people open the present without knowing what it is!”

2. Having trouble waiting

The situation: Your child tears through all the presents before anyone else gets a chance to open one.

Plan-ahead strategy: Give your child a job, like handing a gift to each person. After everyone has a gift, your child can take one. Then everyone can open a gift at the same time.

You can also try giving your child a small gift first. Encourage your child to quietly play with it while others open their gifts.

On-the-spot response: “Before you take a present for yourself, your aunt and uncle still need theirs. Would you like to give it to them?”

3. Grabbing other kids’ gifts

The situation: Your child grabs the toy a cousin just unwrapped.

Plan-ahead strategy: Talk about how your child might like gifts other kids get. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to grab them. Remind your child to ask before touching: “When you’re done playing, can I see it?” You can also ask kids to think about how they’d feel if someone grabbed their gift.

On-the-spot response: “Please hand the toy back. You can ask to play with it later.”

4. Getting too excited

The situation: Your child is excited and bouncing around after unwrapping a new toy. By accident, your child drops the toy and almost breaks it.

Plan-ahead strategy: Find ways to channel your child’s focus and energy. Ask your child to take pictures for you. Or have your child “interview” people about their gifts.

On-the-spot response: “I’m so happy you like that toy! But let’s be a little more careful. Please set it on the table for now. Would you like to take a photo of Grandma with her gift?”

5. Seeming ungrateful

The situation: After opening gifts, your child cries out, “But I wanted a scooter!”

Plan-ahead strategy: Talk about how fortunate the family is to be able to give gifts. Explain to your child how you have a set amount of money to spend on holiday gifts.

On-the-spot response: “I see you’re disappointed. Let’s look at your presents and see the other nice things you got.”

About the author

About the author

Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.