I love seeing my daughter’s eyes light up when someone she loves gives her a present or two on her birthday or during the holiday season. But four, five — 10 presents at a time? Not so much — especially since I’m trying to raise her to be an appreciative, unentitled little citizen. Still, how can I possibly tell well-meaning (but repeat-offender) friends and relatives to pare down their offerings without coming across as controlling and rude?
Easy, says national etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas Diane Gottsman. “You can just say, ‘You are so gracious every year, and we appreciate the gifts, but she has so many things, and what we’re telling everyone this year is that instead of giving her multiple gifts, we’d like you to donate the extra gifts somewhere in her name,’” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “And this is the time to do it, right now.” Making your proclamation in a way that won’t come off as “combative,” she adds, is important and “really depends on your tone of voice.”
To the well-intentioned family and friends who are the gift givers, Gottsman stresses, “I think we really need to listen to what parents are saying, because it’s a respect factor.”
Of course, moms and dads can only control to an extent what gift-crazy pals do. And if they ignore your request, you can still have a say in what your child ends up with. “As a parent, if you say ‘please don’t’ and someone over-gifts, then it’s your right to do what you wish with those gifts,” she says. “There are a lot of kids out there who may not have anything, and it’s the kind thing to send the extras to someone who might appreciate it.”
Gottsman stresses that it’s important to keep the whole issue in perspective. “When somebody is overindulging our children, it’s helpful to know that it really is out of love and affection,” she says. “So it’s not the time to get angry or start a feud.” And if you can’t bear to give away the pile of gifts that your friend or relative chose for your child, there’s another way to cull the onslaught. “Say, ‘I’m going to put some of these away and give them out throughout the year,’” she notes, which is your prerogative as a parent.
Parenting expert and Pittsburgh-based physician Dr. Deborah Gilboasuggests another approach altogether: Forget about reasoning with the persistent gift givers and take the issue directly to your child — provided that he or she is at least 6 years old. “Say, ‘Giving you all these gifts makes this person happy, but it’s not totally reasonable. So I want you to thank them and pick two or three that are your favorites,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Then we’re going to find a child who has nothing and get the cool opportunity of giving the rest to them.”
Not all kids will be able to handle that, Gilboa admits, and in that case you could go back to the gifter — not to make ultimatums, but to enlist his or her help. “You can say, ‘I’m having some trouble getting them to value quality over quantity. Can you help me?’” Explain that if they could simply choose the best couple of gifts they had in mind, it would provide a much-appreciated lesson for your little one. And if you don’t know the person too well — it’s your dad’s new girlfriend, for example, or the mother of a dear friend — explain that you have a holiday tradition to let your child open only one or two gifts in front of others, as tearing into more makes them overwhelmed and ill-behaved. Then, later, simply donate the rest.
The bottom line, Gottsman notes, is that the rules of thumb here for both givers and receivers are the same: “Be respectful, responsible, and prudent,” she says.