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Birthday Party Gifting: Teaching Your Child Gratitude

My daughter sits on a chair, her little friends surrounding her. Everyone is pushing to the front, trying to get THEIR gift to the special birthday girl. She reaches for a present from someone close to her, and hands me the card. I show her the handmade drawing, while her little friend watches on in anticipation. My daughter slowly rips open the paper, stares in shock at the gift and yells,

"I don't LIKE this! This is stupid!" She throws the present to the floor and moves on to the next one.

My whole body freezes. I can feel the heat rushing to my cheeks, and I turn to look at the little girl who has gifted this unwanted toy. Her big eyes look at me in confusion. Why didn't my daughter like her present?

I immediately stop my daughter, and say "of course you love this toy. We always say thank you to our friends for a gift. I want you to say thank you." After a few minutes of prompting and cajoling, she eventually says thank you. But I worry it's too little, too late.

After the exodus of kids from my house, my daughter gets a stern talking to. We tell her that yes, it's possible in our lifetime we will receive an unwanted gift (tacky hand knit sweaters anyone?) But it is never, ever acceptable to be ungrateful for something that has been given to us. I can hear myself droning on about "kids who have nothing," war, poverty.....aaaaand, I've lost her. She runs off to play with the toy that she originally threw to the floor. I'm starting to think 4 year-olds may be certifiable.

I could have left it at that. In fact, I could have ignored the situation entirely, and just laughed about how "kids will be kids." But that's not the way this mama rolls.

The first thing I did was poll some close Facebook friends, and the answers I got were thoughtful and kind. I heard stories of other kids being shamed at birthday parties because of their gifts, and dealing with the sadness and confusion that results. 

I put my 4 year-old down for a nap, and immediately typed out an email apologizing to the mother of this young girl. I had no idea if the little girl felt sad about it, and I felt that it was important that she get a heads up.

After the little monster (I mean, daughter) woke from her nap, we again chatted about the incident. On suggestion from one of my Facebook friends, I sat down with my daughter to write an apology note, and invite the little friend over to play with the gift. 

Later that evening, I received a reply from the mother. She was very grateful for my email, as her daughter had indeed been upset and worried. Luckily she perked up when she heard that my daughter was already enjoying her gift. The card was received at school the next day, and my little one came home with a cute drawing that the two girls made together. The world was right again.

I'm not sure what my daughter has taken away from this situation, but I know I sure learned a lot. It could have been easy for me to just move on, and tack it up to age-appropriate behaviour. While it's true that 3 and 4 year-olds certainly don't yet (totally) understand social norms, isn't it our job to teach that appropriate behaviour to them? And even more important, I feel that this fiasco was a seriously good time to instill a sense of kindness and gratitude that I want to see my kids practicing as they grow up.

Next time, we'll be having a chat about gratitude BEFORE the present opening begins.

Has your child ever reacted the same to a gift? How did you handle it?