Santa's Coming: Teaching Kids to Be Appreciative

Michele Borba's picture

by Michele Borba

If you haven't checked that calendar, here's a word to the wise. The holidays are quickly approaching which means sooner or later your child is going to be receiving a gift from someone. (Are you with me so far?) My only question to you is this: "How well do your kids handle disappointment" when that gift they are anticipating from Grandma, Uncle Fred or Sister Sue doesn't meet their hopeful expectations? (Translation: the greatly-anticipated DVD player from Grandma turns out to be a pink cashmere sweater. How does your child respond to your mother or worse yet, your mother-in-law?) 

Here is your quick parenting quiz to help you assess how your kids may respond 

  • If your teen is dying for a MP-3 player--and expects it--and then opens the package from Great Aunt Edna and discovers shaving cream and an electric razor, how do you think he'll react?

  • If your lovely three-year-old has been begging for the fancy dollhouse for weeks, and then rips open Grandma's gift and finds a winter coat and boots, how do you think she will react? Remember: your mother is watching and anticipating your daughter's joy over that London Fog coat and rubbers she spent hours looking for.

  • If you don't have a clue as to how your child might respond, then just think back to the last birthday party. How grateful did your child respond to each gift from a friend or relative?

If your blood pressure is accelerating as you visualize a potentially embarrassing parenting moment Christmas morning with your relatives eagerly awaiting those gift-openings -- and your kids' luke-warm responses -- don't despair. The art of tact and gracefulness are learned skills. There still is time to teach those glorious skills of how to appear appreciative before the relatives arrive with gifts for your kiddos in hand.

The fact is, it's easy for kids to look grateful about receiving gifts they like, but it's much harder for them to learn to accept an unappealing gift with grace. That's why I strongly recommend a little rehearsal before the actual gift-giving exchange. Just add this next little part to your holiday list: Teach my kids to be appreciative--even if they're disappointed with the gift. Believe me, this skill will come in handy the rest of our children's lives. Here are three simple ways to do so:

Teaching appreciation if you're disappointed

  1. Rehearse appreciation. Teach your child how to accept gifts graciously by rehearing polite comebacks prior to the event. A few gracious responses might be "Thank you for this. I really appreciate it" or "Thanks. That was nice of you." Sometimes "Thank you so much!" might be best. Younger kids can practice saying those responses with their teddy bears or dolls. But remember, repeated practice is critical to succeed in mastering this skill. Just please don't wait until the night before to start those rehearsals.

  2. Help your child imagine the recipient's feelings. Set up a few pretend sequences and then role play with your child. For instance: "Suppose Aunt Helen is here right now. She spent a lot of time shopping for your gift because she loves you and hopes you're happy when you open it. Pretend she's watching you open that package. What can you say and do to let her know you appreciate her effort?"

  3. Stress appreciation. Emphasize to your child that he doesn't have to like a gift, but he must show his appreciation for the thought that went behind the effort. That point will take a lot of little chats and not one long marathon lecture. So start the little reminders now.

Hint: If you've rehearsed and there's still one of those embarrassing kid blunders when the gift-exchange occurs, remember there are always thank you cards.

Happy holidays!

These strategies are adapted from The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.

Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an educational psychologist, former teacher, and mom who is recognized for offering research-driven advice culled from a career of working with over one million parents, educators, and children. A frequent Today show contributor she also appears on Dr. Phil, The View, CNN American Morning, and The Early Show, Michele is the author of 22 books including her latest release, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. Visit her daily blog on or follow her on twitter.

Copyright © Michele Borba. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.