by Ginger Henderson
If there’s one thing we can say about children, it’s that they know how to be honest – sometimes brutally honest. Kids often don’t know how to respond in difficult situations, like when they receive an unusual or unwanted gift, so they turn to their tried and true honesty. However, this almost always produces cringe-worthy results. Before resorting to clapping a hand over your child’s mouth or avoiding the get together, read these questions from our readers and try implementing our answers to help your child learn how to add a healthy dose of tact to his or her honest response.
My daughter received a popular doll from Santa. When she opened her gift from my mother-in-law a few days after Christmas, it was the same doll. My daughter blurted out that she didn’t want the doll because she already had one from Santa. It embarrassed everyone at the party, especially my mother-in-law. What can I do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Even though your mother-in-law likely learned an important lesson (check with Santa to see what’s on his list before gift shopping), situations like this are bound to happen again. After the party, sit down with your daughter and explain that her words made Grandma feel bad that she hadn’t chosen a good gift. Tell your daughter that a proper response would be to thank the gift giver for the gift without saying anything else about already having one. Explain that you can always take the gift back to the store and exchange it for something else without the giver having to know about it. Stress that the importance is in giving, and that you want to make sure the giver knows you appreciate the time, effort and money spent in choosing the gift for you.
My sister and her husband have been struggling financially since she lost her job a few months ago, though they still insisted on bringing a gift to my son’s birthday party. They made a lovely homemade gift – a coloring book made of images of my son’s favorite superhero characters they printed from a website along with a new box of crayons. After opening it, my son smirked and pointed out that they printed the pictures for free. I was mortified by his behavior. What do I say or do to make sure he understands the sensitivity of the issue?
Sometimes we give kids too much credit. Even though your sister’s job loss has likely been on the forefront of your mind, your son has likely not given it a second thought (if he even realizes it at all). Children tend to be self-absorbed by nature, so it’s up to you to explain the situation to him. Have an honest discussion with your son and explain the job loss and what the loss of income has meant for your sister’s family. Explain that his comments were hurtful and communicate the value of the thought behind the gift, not its monetary worth (they chose to make a book of pages they knew he had interest in). If your son feels remorseful, he can call or write to apologize. Even if he doesn’t, apologize to them on his behalf and tell them that the experience brought about a meaningful conversation about values between you and your son. They will likely appreciate that their gift provided a teachable moment for your son.
The important thing to remember when handling situations like these is to continue to encourage honesty, just with the addition of tact. Don’t tell your child to lie (he or she shouldn’t say they love the gift if they truly dislike it), instead equip them with the dialogue necessary to gracefully accept the gift. Just a simple, “Thank you for this gift!” goes a long way. You can also tell your child that if he or she is caught off guard by an unexpected gift, an easy out is to make a general comment about it – its color or size or shape, for example. “Oh, thank you. Red is my favorite color,” or “Thank you for this. It looks like it’s just my size.”
By teaching your children to use tact in accepting unusual (or unwanted) gifts, you’re instilling an important value – that the worth of the gift lies in the individual giving it. Someone loved your child enough to shop for or create something especially for him or her, and that love should be celebrated and appreciated. By learning to respond with grace in difficult situations, your child will be better equipped for handling him or herself in the world.