At a glance
It’s important to consider your child’s strengths, challenges, and interests when choosing presents.
Try to avoid using holiday gifts as an incentive for good behavior.
Giving fewer gifts can help make the holiday more manageable.
Gift-giving with kids is a balancing act. You want it to be fun but meaningful, festive but not chaotic. Certain learning and thinking differences can create extra challenges for some kids. But these five strategies can help you make choosing and giving gifts a more joyous experience for everyone.
Strategy #1: See your “whole” child.
Kids can view gifts as a reflection of how people see them. This is a good opportunity to think about your child beyond the daily challenges. Who is your child as a person? What inspires your child? The gifts you give can communicate that you “get” your child.
It’s important to do that with siblings, too. You don’t have to give an even amount or the same type of gift to each child. Acknowledging that they’re different people can make each one feel special — and it can help reduce sibling tension during the holidays.
Strategy #2: Don’t rely on age recommendations.
Memorize this gift-giving equation:
Child’s interest + child’s ability = great present!
The best gifts are a good fit for what kids are currently able to do, what they’re interested in, and what they find fun. This means you might not want to rely on the age guidelines listed on toys.
A building set listed for “Age 6 and up” might not necessarily be a good fit for a first grader with . But for a first grader who has strong fine motor skills and loves to build, it could be a great fit.
Be prepared in case your child reacts to the age on the box. If your child looks at the guidelines and says, “I’m too old for this,” you can explain that “and up” means “and older than.”
Strategy #3: Avoid turning gifts into work.
The holidays can be a welcome break from working on challenges — for both parents and kids. Loading up on presents designed to bolster skills might be an unwelcome reminder that there’s always more work to be done.
That doesn’t mean you have to entirely shy away from gifts that help kids learn, however. For example, consider choosing games that can help improve executive function skills, video games that help teens build reasoning skills, or board games that sneak in math.
Gift certificates to local businesses can be beneficial presents, too. For example:
- Passes to a local indoor trampoline park for a child with
- Movie tickets for a child with to the book-turned-film that all the kids at school raved about
- A private build-a-stuffed-animal session for a child who struggles with motor skills
Strategy #4: Limit the gift haul.
The holidays are cause for excitement. For some kids with learning and thinking differences, all the excitement may be too much to handle. That can include kids who have challenges with or . Less can be more when it comes to gift-giving.
One way to help kids maintain control? Reduce the number of gifts each child receives. Some parents find it helpful to follow a simplified gift formula for each child. For example:
- Something they want
- Something they need
- Something to wear
- Something to read
Whether or not this specific lineup works for your family, consider shortening the gift-opening process — or being open to taking breaks — to reduce tantrums and meltdowns.
Strategy #5: Don’t use presents as a bargaining chip.
Avoid using holiday presents as an incentive for good behavior, such as saying things like “If you’re really good, maybe Santa will bring you that bike you wanted.” Or “If you don’t sit still in the car, forget about getting a lot of gifts this year.”
For young kids and kids who struggle with attention, it’s more helpful to focus on short-term rewards and consequences. These can have a bigger impact on their behavior and won’t risk putting a negative spin on the holidays.
Choosing gifts that work for your child is just one way to help make the holidays successful. View this holiday planner if your child has trouble with sensory processing. And learn how to create family traditions that fit your child’s strengths.
When picking gifts for your child, don’t rely on the age guide on toys.
Consider limiting the number of gifts you give each child.
Avoid turning gifts into “work.” Try not to load up on presents that are designed for skillbuilding.
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About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.