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.”

Check out a mom’s simple strategy for calm holiday gift giving.


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