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What Should Children Know about Polite Gift Reception?

A simple thank you card.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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Teaching children about politely receiving gifts is important during the first few years of life. It is especially valuable to practice politely receiving gifts, so that children are well rehearsed prior to the hustle and bustle of a holiday or birthday. Very young children often shout out things like “I already have one!” Or “I hate it!” This can cause discomfort for everyone, or at least a bit of giggling. As children age, most friends and relatives expect that children will improve at politely receiving gifts.

By the time children are talking, it can be fairly simple to show them that there are several ways of politely receiving gifts, especially if the gift is not exactly what the child had in mind. Some people recommend sending a gift list to friends and family.

However, many etiquette experts feel this is rude, and discourages politely receiving gifts that weren’t on a list. It is a demand for certain gifts rather than allowing relatives to choose within their means. It’s fine to supply a list when requested, but then children have expectations regarding what they will get, and that is a path toward rudeness.

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Obviously the child who doesn’t get what he expects may respond in rude ways without instruction. Thus the first rule of politely receiving gifts is that they are not to be expected. Gifts are a way of showing that someone cares about the child. Expectation of gifts can quickly become a demand for gifts, which is not polite.

The next rule that helps children practice politely receiving gifts is to involve children early in giving their own gifts. Have them shop for or make items to give to friends and family members. Children can soon get very excited anticipating how someone will receive a gift. It might help for the children to realize, particularly if rudeness has occurred in the past, how they might feel if someone didn’t receive a gift in a nice way.

The proper response to any gift is a prompt “Thank you.” This can be taught to the youngest of children. Even if the gift is not what was expected. Most children who are five or six can further add something nice about the present. For example, receiving a book one already owns and loves might encourage the statement “I love this book!” This is a true statement, thus not encouraging the child to lie, and promotes polite reception of gifts.

A child, who gets clothing, may wrinkle up his or her nose at such a gift. However, a new shirt, new socks, or pajamas are likely to be useful. Politely receiving gifts like these can include thanks and a statement such as, “I’m sure I’ll use this a lot.” Or “Wow, these will keep me warm.”

Politely receiving gifts really does require practice, because children do blurt out things. However, if children know that gifts come from the heart, that people like to have their gifts appreciated, and that it’s important to make the person giving the gift feel good about their choice, it can help enhance polite reception of gifts. Role-playing can often be a fun way to deliver this information without making it a lecture. In fact, as the adage goes, “practice makes perfect.”

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