In Pursuit of Gracious Gift Receiving

Christmas is all about the magic. To me it’s the songs, the smells, the sounds and the sights that make the season oh so special. But ask any child what makes Christmas special and they will answer with: the GIFTS!

My mother taught me how to be a gracious gift receiver. I can remember opening presents as a child, and she would instruct me to always say something nice and thank the person for thinking of me. I was told to never say that I didn’t like sometIn pursuit take 2hing or that I already had the item. I am sure that is a pretty standard conversation that most moms have with their children.

Now that I have a three year old, I am trying to figure out how I can impose those life lessons of gift receiving on my child. I know she is only three, but I think that good habits start early. I want her to be thankful to anyone who was nice enough to spend time and money to give her a gift, and I am trying to desperately avoid that moment when you turn red in the face while trying to apologize for something your child just said.

With her birthday party, we just didn’t open presents at the party. I cited the lack of time as an excuse for that one. But I was determined to start familiarizing her with the process of showing thanks for a gift. After she opened all of her gifts, I had her help me with the thank you cards. I wrote the note and I had her color and draw on each and every one. Although she didn’t realize what she was doing, I enjoyed engaging her in the process.

With Christmas in just a couple of short weeks, I know she will be opening gifts in front of others. With the holidays, gift giving and receiving is such an event that I need to start working on her gift receiving skills.

But the entire situation is awkward. It is not a simple thing to teach because it fits into that grey area. It is hard to explain to a child the difference between social lying to save someone’s feelings and bad lying. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely do not support lying. However, I will tell my grandmother that the sweater she picked out for me is adorable, when in fact I will never wear it. Given that, how do I explain this to a three year old?

I am pretty sure that people have low expectations of how a three year old says thank you. But I know that people look forward to the reaction of when a child opens a present. I know that I personally, along with her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, want her to get so excited and shriek that she loves it because that is the best part of gift giving. However, that is not always the reaction that people get.

How do you make sure that you don’t disappoint people with your child’s reaction? How do you make sure your child is gracious and respectful when receiving a gift? Since I clearly have no answer on this subject I had to go elsewhere. So in pursuit of an answer I conducted highly scientific research. I asked moms with children older than mine.

Mom Suggestions For Raising Gracious Children

  • Engage kids in the “act of thank you,” such as writing notes or having them thank someone one-on-one.
  • Have the child come up with a reason they like the gift and then include that in the thank you note that they parent is writing.
  • Show kids the value in receiving a gift. Have them gift old toys to Goodwill or another charity and explain to them why you give.
  • Encourage the child to donate a portion of the money they received to a nonprofit.
  • Practice giving and receiving gifts at home. Since practice makes perfect if you work on the conversation it will feel more natural in front of others.

This is not a how to guide, rather just some suggestions from real moms who have been there. So as I head deeper in to the holiday season, I am going to make a concerted effort to work on the act of gracious gift receiving. I know that we won’t have it down pat this holiday season but an “A” for effort is what I am going for.


  1. Luckily my 3 year old says “It’s booootiful I lub it!” for almost everything. My main problem with him is getting him not to tell Daddy what we got him, which I think it’s already too late on that front.

    I think the best way to get kids to behave a certain way is to just model that behavior, because they will mimic what they see you doing, and hopefully they aren’t watching TV shows with bratty kids in them picking up bad habits from that.


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