My son wandered the store examining each item carefully. He held up a sweater and said “Maybe he will like this?” It came out more of a question than a statement.

“Do you think he will like it?” I asked “You know more than me”

He shook his head and kept looking.

We were out shopping for a birthday gift to bring to the party he was invited to later in the day.

You won’t ever find me shopping for birthday gifts by myself. It’s really important to me that my kids pick the birthday gifts that they bring to their friends party. They have become quite good at gift giving. They pay attention to what their friends enjoy and what they don’t enjoy. As we wander through the store I learn about their friends likes and dislikes; which one is into Minecraft, which one loves to read, which one likes to craft. They each put a lot of thought into the gifts they choose for their friends.

Sometimes they come crashing into the house in a post party sugar rush squealing about how much their friend loved the board game they chose. Other times they come home a little disappointed that their friend didn’t open the gift in front of them.

Birthday parties and specifically birthday gifts have been a topic of discussion lately. There are no gift parties, 5$ parties, parties where donations to favourite charities are requested and on and on and on.

We live in a world of too much stuff and many parents are trying to get creative about how to manage that.

While I appreciate trying to teach our children that birthday celebrations aren’t about the stuff you get but about the people you celebrate with, I think we are also losing out on an opportunity to teach our children other valuable lessons surrounding gift giving.

There is joy to be found in gift giving. Pleasure can be found in searching for the perfect gift for someone you care about and seeing their expression when you open it.

If our kids don’t get the opportunity to experience that I’m afraid they will become immune to it.

When it’s your kids turn to open birthday gifts it’s a perfect moment to teach your kids to be thankful for what they have been given. The thought of my kids ripping open packaging in a gift opening frenzy without even focusing on one gift before rushing to the next makes my stomach tighten. But I don’t think the answer is to take the gifts out of the equation.

Our kids need the chance to learn to accept gifts graciously, even the ones they don’t necessarily love. I want my kids to learn how to look someone in the eye and say thank you for what they have received. I want them to appreciate the thought that went into each and every gift.

I think the key is not in giving up gifts altogether but in managing our gift expectations. There is no reason that we have to spend tons of money on gifts. There are tons of gifts options that don’t cost a fortune and can help our kids learn the joy of gift giving and the pleasure of receiving.

The next time you invite one of my kids to your birthday party know that they have thoughtfully picked out the gift they proudly carry under their arm. And when you give them a gift know that I am trying my best to teach them the gift of gratitude.


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