Q My wife and I have three children, two daughters and a son. The girls are fiercely competitive about who gets the most or the best gifts for birthdays and holidays. Our oldest daughter is 17 and has always been my father’s favorite grandchild. She can get anything she wants from Grandpop, even when we have said “no” to certain things. She rubs this in with her two younger siblings. How can we stop her grandfather from giving her whatever she asks? What can we do to stem this self-serving behavior of going to her grandfather for whatever she wants? How can we help her to be more considerate of others, especially during this time when people are hurting in the pandemic and don’t get everything they want, much less the things they need, such as shelter and food?
A Grandparents frequently engage in gift-giving behavior that parents object to, such as giving so many gifts that the parents don’t have room for all of them. Sometimes a grandparent will bring a gift for every visit. Children can begin to see a grandparent as a source of gifts and not as someone to love and interact with. Grandparents may be trying to show their love through gifts rather than by spending time with their grandchildren.
Here are some suggestions of helpful things to do to change both a grandparent’s excessive gift giving and the behavior of your child.
- Have a serious talk with the grandparent. Share with your dad how your oldest has touted her ability to get whatever she wants from him. Explain how his behavior interferes with your ability to parent. When you say “no” to something, ask that he respect your decision as a parent, or ask him to talk with you before giving your child something that she has asked for or hinted at. Share with him the values you are trying to instill in your children.
In a Parents magazine 2020 study of over 1,000 moms and dads polled, 73% chose kindness as the quality they most want to instill in their kids. You might also teach your kids gratitude, or appreciation for the worth of a big item, by encouraging them to earn part of the money for it and not expect that everything to be given to them.
- Have a discussion with your children about curbing competitiveness around gifts and the joy of giving to others as well as receiving.
- Convey to grandparents that the greatest gift they can give a child is their time. For a long-distance grandparent, time could be shared through video chats, letters, cards or reading together via Zoom.
- Encourage your children to send letters, drawings, pictures and thank-you notes to grandparents.
- Involve your children in activities that help them learn that some people may have far less than they have and may truly need things. There are so many opportunities to volunteer in ways that develop empathy, such as adopting a family at Christmas, collecting items for a toy drive or volunteering to pack meals for people in need.
- Develop some rules around presents. This could be in the form of a price limit for each child’s gifts. Let your kids know the spending limit, so they can make their wish lists with this in mind. Some parents use a formula: one present to read, one to wear and one for fun. Another option is to buy a limited number of individual presents and then a big gift for the whole family to share.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.