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My two-year-old son is getting a lot of presents this Christmas. Quite a few of these presents are from friends of my wife, who've never actually met my son, or from relatives of mine that live out of state, and whom my son has not yet been introduced to.

We want him to appreciate that idea of a gift, more than just "here's a bunch of new toys to play with". Part of that is, to me, understanding that the person who gave you the gift cares about you, and wants you to be happy, and therefore thought of you to send a gift.

Yet it seems problematic to say "such-and-such that you've never met, and who has never met you, cares about you and wants you to be happy".

What is the best approach to receiving gifts from people like this in such a way as to emphasize the value of the act of giving, over simply receiving presents?

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It sounds like some of those gifts might really be because the person cares about you or cares about your wife more than the gift being about your son. If this is true, for the applicable gifts I wouldn't make a big deal of it with your son, but make sure you express your thanks to that person in a way your son will see or overhear. In these cases, you are just setting an example. –  balanced mama Dec 28 '12 at 18:01

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Have him be with you when you write the thank you notes. Help him draw a picture or sign his name to the card, so that he can take part. That way he's giving back a little. There is joy in the giving that he may relate to.

It's also good to help him understand who the people are who care about him. Some parents have a tradition with their children where each night, they naming the people they love and the people who love them. This can help kids understand the value of feelings and relationships, separate from the playtime of the gifts.

He'll learn how to appreciate the sentiment behind the gifts based on your reactions. If he sees your appreciation of sentiment, likely he'll echo it too.

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Great Answer! I also used to make sure I showed a picture of the loving relative that sent the gift to my daughter until she became familiar with who everyone was. At about Beofett's son's age we also started skyping with such relatives so that she could "meet" these people. –  balanced mama Dec 28 '12 at 18:03

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