In this season of family gatherings, exchanging gifts is a common practice. Children delight in the expectation of a gift. But for parents, questions abound: How can I help my child to appreciate the gifts she receives? How can I help her to think about the recipient when it’s time for her to give a gift? Can gift-giving be more meaningful without it costing more money?
Appreciation for what one has often begins with just plain talk between parent and child. Gift-giving and receiving is part of the social exchange that’s been going on forever – it’s a basic part of our way of life. Yet, as basic as the process seems, as children grow they still need to learn how to give a gift and how to receive one.
Tell The Story
A gift is seldom just a gift; often, there’s a story behind it. Have you told your children why it is that you like the toaster in your kitchen? Your mum gave you that toaster when you first went off to university. Tell the children that story. And the new big-screen TV? Tell them the story of how Mum and Dad picked it out together, after long discussions, because you wanted a gift in the house that the whole family could enjoy together.
Wrap It Up
Young children can be charmed and puzzled by a fully wrapped gift. Take advantage of that feeling of wonder and wrap with imagination. For a child, the wrapping paper that surrounds the gift – and the process of unwrapping – may be as tantalising as the gift itself.
Thoughtful wrapping doesn’t have to be expensive. While some of us might purchase colourfully printed paper, other folks are happy to give and receive items wrapped in newsprint, comics or magazine pages. Some clever wrappers have reused bubble wrap, foam sheeting, or brown paper from other items delivered to the home in well-cushioned packages. Large sheets of inexpensive white or brown packaging paper allow children to draw their own designs with crayons. Or, why not use paint for your own handprints? Something personal on the wrapping sets your gift apart from all the others.
It is said that the youngest child and the oldest grandpa will both smile at gifts that are wrapped many times over. Use more than one kind of paper, tape on a round of corrugated cardboard, hand stitch some old sheeting, or that last corner of a plastic party table cloth. Somewhere in the middle, tuck the partially wrapped gift into a cereal box and then add more paper or cloth wrappings. As the recipient unwraps, there will be increased wonder and maybe more than one giggle. Let your children see that you can reuse and recycle wrapping materials with imagination and joy. Indeed, good gifts and their wrappings come with funny stories.
Hit The Road
Our international children sometimes assume that an aeroplane trip will be on the agenda for any break in the school term. Whilst we may not be able to travel this Christmas there are plenty of places to explore in Hong Kong. Make it more exciting by incorporating a game like a scavenger hunt to a hike.
Join The Chain Gang
Here in Hong Kong, our third-culture kids are sometimes many miles away from grandparents and other relatives. Why not make a paper chain to help keep families in touch with one another? Depending on the age of your children, the youngest one can make a mark, a pre-schooler might print just one word and older children might write a full sentence on each strip of paper. As the parent, you might take a few of the chain links to explain what your family was thinking about and doing on the day the paper chain was being made.
The glued or stapled links of the paper chain can then be carefully folded. Find an envelope for posting and then just imagine how surprised those relatives will be to have their own personal paper chain from Hong Kong. The messages will be read several times over, as the chain might be displayed on a Christmas tree or hung from a light fixture. People who visit that distant home will notice the hand-crafted chain and then your written words.
An original handwritten poem that is presented in a colourful envelope could be a cherished gift. If you are not one to write poetry, collect a few of your favourites and mount these in a scrapbook. Your good thoughts are then carried on the pages. You could also include cartoons or family photographs. Choose sturdy paper and the home-made book – sent all the way from Hong Kong – can be enjoyed over and over again.
“As the season draws to a close, yet before the new calendar year begins, do think about the many ways that you have said thank you for the gifts you have received”.
Give A Fun Toy
While I’ve been suggesting handmade gifts, there is nothing wrong with giving a real toy. Dolls, trains and electronically assisted marvels. We all know the toys that we treasured when we were young, and the same kinds of toys (and lots more!) can be found in toy shops, department stores and on the web. Consider adding a note to explain how long ago and far away you had a similar toy. Or, if you opt for one of the many battery assisted or electronic screens that weren’t available when you were young, you could write just a few words about why this new toy interested you.
If your kids will be exchanging gifts with their friends, do talk with the other parents: What price range is appropriate? What are the usual kinds of gifts that are given – games, books, trucks, tea sets? Especially if you are the new family in town, you probably don’t want to stray too far from group expectations.
Look Local For Global Gifts
When shopping for gifts for those who have never visited Hong Kong, do not overlook the local markets. A bamboo steamer used to serve dim sum or a ginger grater might seem like pretty common household items to your Hong Kong family, but one of these could turn out to be one of the most talked about gifts received by a family in a small town far away. Look for simple traditional toys and stationery displayed in the local shops, or seek out traditional handicrafts.
As the season draws to a close, yet before the new calendar year begins, do think about the many ways that you have said thank you for the gifts you have received. There is the immediate word of thanks when the gift is received, then perhaps a somewhat longer chat the next day. For the folks far away, send an electronic message or an old-fashioned handwritten note. No matter what, take time to put the words on the screen or on paper. More importantly, as your child enjoys that new toy, remind her how the toy came to her. And, when the time is right, it is never impolite to thank the giver one more time.
This post was originally posted in 2014 and updated in 2020.
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