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Monday, 18 January 2021
Funk Over Gifts Print
The holiday season can be rough on our children. A couple of moms share…

Happy Holidays to all and I hope that the season is going well. All the activity and change of this time of year can be hard on our little ones who get their bearings and feel safe through predictability, routine, and, oh yes, control.

When my daughter was little we tried to keep things as routine as possible…tried not to schedule too many things that were different for her. And, for her, gifts, after a certain point, didn’t seem to make her happy. She would eventually open them up more and more slowly, and eventually just seem to be in a kind of a funk. We learned to cut back on gifts (to my dismay as a person who loves Christmas!) and tried to not make the day too stimulating. She did much better with this.

Then, when she was a bit older, we tried talking with her about gifts and why they might not feel good to her. I forget exactly how it happened, but to my surprise, somehow she started talking about the things we sent to her in China just before we adopted her (our goody box with stuffed animals, a blanket, camera for pictures etc.). She started saying how she had never gotten gifts before then. She just kind of mentioned this without really tying it to anything. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

When I recovered, I asked her if she thought maybe gifts didn’t feel good to her because maybe somewhere inside she was afraid that everything would suddenly change again after getting some gifts, like they did then. She said she didn’t know…but maybe. From that year on, she has gradually gotten better at receiving gifts. It is not so scary for her now. And, for a few years, we would often talk about it and put words to it…how her body might worry that when she gets a lot of gifts all of a sudden, that maybe there was going to be a sudden change. Her mind might not know or worry about this, but her body might. This seemed to help her feel lighter when we would talk about it. And, we would reassure her…”No changes coming” became our mantra.

Fast forward to today…we still keep our gifts fewer than I might like (but with gifts from other family members she always has plenty), but that funk hasn’t happened in the last year or two. We’ll see this year!

(I will add… my daughter was 1 year and 2 days old when we adopted her. For a while she was able to remember amazing stuff about China. It didn’t come up all that often, but when it did, I was amazed. I have heard other parents talk about this, and many of you may have had similar experiences with your children. She doesn’t remember any of this stuff now at 7 years. Somewhere around 4, 5 and 6 years the memories seemed to leave. I think this is an age where for many of us, the details of the early years get hazy. And, I wonder too, for many children, if their worlds changed all of a sudden, if they too would be able to tell us all kinds of detail…if their brain would hold fast to what they knew before. These are just my wonderings.)

So, I tell you all of this, in case this is helpful to any of you at this time of year. There may be no other children who react as my daughter did to gifts. But, it wasn’t an obvious thing for us to figure out, so just in case it is helpful to anyone else, I thought I would offer it.

Best to you all…Happy Holidays.
Kathy Reilly, Ph.D., C.S.W., adoptive mom and psychologist

Our son also struggles with receiving gifts. Unlike Kathy’s story, I’ve been unable to determine an exact cause, but something about the process disturbs him. Maybe it stems from a feeling of losing control...after all, you can't control what is in a package or whether you'll like it. And if you're polite, you don't really have a choice over whether or not to thank the giver...which may lead to fear..."how will I handle this if I don't like it?" Whatever the case, while he usually enjoys being the center of attention, the focus on him while opening gifts makes him anxious. It is also very hard for him to thank the giver. Although we’ve practiced in private, it has done little to alleviate the stress involved. This anxiety was so pronounced that at his last birthday he asked if he could “not have a present” rather than having to thank Grandma and Grandpa afterward.

So, this Christmas we decided to try something new. It was an easy decision. My son’s gift anxiety, the hype about lead paint in toys, our desire to get off the wagon of consumerism, a wish to return to focusing on the reason for the season…it all made sense.

With our extended family (with whom we’d be spending Christmas day), we agreed to draw names and spend just $20/person. To the penny. The kids loved trying to figure out who had drawn whom…and tripping up Mom who kept accidentally slipping hints when we were out shopping. “Oh, that would be perfect for _____. I’d better tell ______.” The kids thought it hilarious that Mom couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it. (I’ve already declared that someone else has to be in charge of the list next year!)

But the biggest delight for the kids was in choosing the perfect gifts with just $20. They wanted to see their pennies stretch and pick out the things that made their special person the happiest. The focus totally changed from “what I want” to “how can I make my person happy?”

It still wasn’t easy for my son. He opened first. His sister drew his name and for $20 had managed to collect five items—some new, some used—all things he wanted. He opened the first one, scowled, and said, “I don’t like that” and put it aside. We knew that he really wanted the gift. What he didn’t like—and I should have taken him aside and acknowledged this, but missed the opportunity—was being in the spotlight while receiving a gift. Any gift. But what quickly became obvious was that the gift focus was not on him. Everyone, adults and children alike, had their moment. Small, but equal moments. Folks were thrilled with certificates for homemade pie (from the baker in the family), consumables (the most popular items—snacks, chocolate, special drinks, bath soaps, lotions), and yes, even a few toys. But for a change, the gift distribution was equal across the family. And, in a twist, being the giver suddenly bore greater delight (and equal attention) to being the receiver.

When my son saw that the gift giving wasn’t all about him, he was able to relax and enjoy the remainder of the day. And that’s the best gift we could have given him. [a. 6mo, FC]

If you have experience with children, gift giving and holidays to share, feel free to post below…


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