Spoiled daughter turns nose up at gifts, makes mom feel bad in front of family
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
Read in Fredericksburg Parent & Family Magazine
THE PROBLEM: After this gift-giving season, I can see I need to do something about my daughter’s attitude toward gifts (she’s 4). Every time she opened a gift, she tossed it aside, looking for the next one, unless it was over-the-top spectacular, like the princess playhouse she got. Telling her to say ‘thank you’ felt perfunctory, like a chore. I felt awful when she expressed disappointment, especially when the giver was sitting right there. Telling her to feel differently didn’t work. She just said something nicer, prompted by me. It was sort of a joke at our family gathering that my daughter actually ‘liked’ something she got from them. I appreciate my siblings all having a sense of humor about it, but I don’t know how to encourage my daughter to feel differently.
MARY SAYS: It's easy to make snap judgements about a situation based on what you see. For example, you might be thinking: “Wow. My daughter is not only greedy, she’s rude.” Most likely, your siblings are thinking the same thing—and wondering why you’re not doing anything about it.
But guess what? Children are greedy, they are rude, unless taught differently, which is what you’re trying to do. Stay on it, Mom, your efforts will pay off. After all, she is only four. Give it time and consistent correction, and her behaviors will change.
I’m actually more concerned about something else.
At your daughter’s age, children have a natural capacity for curiosity and wonder. Even a small gift is a treasure: a rubber ball, a coloring book, a box of crayons. It’s not unusual to find a four-year-old more fascinated by the box than what’s inside. Lucky is the grown-up who experienced a childhood full of wonder, because it sticks. And without it, life can be very long indeed, and not in a good way.
Your daughter’s response to gifts is not unlike that of someone who suffers from addiction. The need to feed the addiction is constant, a craving that never stops. Your daughter is unable to find satisfaction—and wonder—without moving on to the next gift, the next source of pleasure.
What she’s missing out on is what’s in her hands right now.
You have a sweet window here to instill a lifelong sense of wonder at an age when it comes so easily. Start by slowing the gift-giving down. Take time with each gift to look at it closely, ‘bounce the tires’ a bit. If it’s a tiara, try it on. A book, look at the pictures. A hula-hoop, give it a whirl. Talk about why the gift-giver thought your daughter might like it.
But don’t stop there, because gift-giving isn’t just about the gifts, is it? It’s about people showing each other they care, that they pay attention to who you are and what you like. And the best way to enjoy this deeper, more satisfying experience is to help your daughter become an amazing gift giver.
At the next family gift-giving occasion, put your daughter in charge of handing out the gifts. Better yet, let her help choose each gift. What does Grandpa do in his spare time? Does Aunt Susie like to wear her hair up with sparkly bows? How much does Cousin Charley talk about his rock collection?
Teach your daughter to be observant about the people in her world, searching for clues that reveal who they are. By taking the focus off herself and putting it on others, you will see your daughter make a shift—one that relieves her constant hunger for the ‘next big thing’ and helps her enjoy watching surprise and delight on other people’s faces.
Look for an easy phonics program to teach your 3-6 yo child to read? Try this!
ERIKA SAYS: I chuckled reading this because not only do I sympathize with you, Mama, but I know what it feels like when your child reacts in a way that is less-than-cute. Your kid’s response can make you want to hide under a rock, right? Children often have no filters, and it can be the funniest yet most embarrassing thing ever. There have been plenty of times I've felt fear about what might come out of my son’s mouth. While humor is a good way to get past moments like these, I understand your frustration and concern.
Here’s the thing about 4 year-olds. They know what they want, and they want what they want, when they want it. Period! Their intention when expressing disappointment is not to hurt somebody’s feelings. They’re simply expressing raw and honest emotions. There are so many ways you can teach your daughter to be a gracious receiver without teaching her to lie about how she feels or forcing a positive reaction out of her.
Here are some tips to help you avoid that feeling of dread the next time she’s opening gifts:
It’s the thought that counts
Growing up, my mother always said this. I didn’t really understand what she meant until I was much older and began giving gifts. Now, every time my son is given something, I like to make him aware of how thoughtful it was for that person to take time to buy him something they think he will enjoy.
Get her involved
Now is a great time to begin involving your daughter in the gifting process. When shopping for presents for family, friends, or my son’s friends, I allow him to take part. He picks everything from the gift itself down to the wrapping paper—even the card. It’s always a fun trip; we get to spend quality time together, and he learns first-hand the excitement of shopping for someone he cares about. Do this with your daughter, and the next time she feels disappointment over a gift, she will understand how a person feels when someone doesn't express gratitude.
Don’t just say it, mean it
Pushing your daughter to say “thank you” feels like a chore because she’s not understanding the ‘why.’ Whyis she saying thank you? Teaching her to say ‘thank you’ is not enough, it’s important that she mean it. Tell her she’s not only thanking someone for a gift, but she’s showing gratitude for the thought, the time taken to shop, and the money spent to express love for her.
The sooner you start working with your daughter and making these moments teachable, you’ll begin to see the fruits of your love and labor. As an added bonus, special gatherings where your daughter is the center of attention will no longer cause you anxiety. If you stay consistent, you will soon have yourself a grateful little girl who enthusiastically shows appreciation for each and every gift.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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