Life Skills: Accepting Unwanted Gifts Graciously

Okay, so I’ve been feeling a little down in the dumps regarding Aristotle and his less than stellar behavioural reports from school. As always, whenever the kids misbehave, everyone looks at Mum – especially when you’re the SAHM who’s looking after the kids full time. Who else could possibly be responsible for their attrocious manners and horrible behaviours? It doesn’t matter that Aristotle is only 4 (soon to be 5) and Hercules is 2. The fact remains that the future of how they turn out to be looms like a cumulonimbus cloud over my head. If they turn out to be juvenile delinquents and social deviants, the finger will invariably point at me. I don’t care how many denials there are that this is not so – the thought bubble will remain. Nobody needs to vocalise it, the looks alone will be enough.

So I was very grateful when I came across this blog on my BFF’s facebook page:

Amber Dusick is an amazing woman and mother and above all very, very funny! Don’t believe me, just head over to her blog Parenting Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. I have been reading through a few of her most recent blog posts and I feel almost like my old self again (thank you Amber!). Her illustrated stories about her life with her two boys is so analogous to mine that I am reminded how easy it is to forget that we aren’t the only ones experiencing these problems with our children (even if it seems like we are sometimes).

For instance, Amber recently taught her older son about being gracious when receiving a gift you don’t like and it reminded me of a similar phase we had been going through with Aristotle and his “brutal honesty” about the gifts he receives. The irony was that he used to be quite polite about it when he was younger. Here’s an exchange between him and his aunt:

Aunt: Would you like to try my biscuit?
Aristotle: Okay. *Takes a bite*
Aunt: Would you like some more?
Aristorle: No thanks.

Pretty good for a kid, I thought – polite but it gets to the point without having to say those ugly words: “I don’t like it.”

Somewhere along the way, he forgot his manners and started responding with, “I don’t like it.” Or perhaps he never had them to begin with and he just scored the right answer by accident because it seems “appreciation deficiency” is a common syndrome in children. Anyway, it’s a tough area because children simply speak the truth and here we are telling them to lie because the truth hurts. Most adults end up accepting the gift a little too graciously – “Oh thank you! It’s lovely!” – NOT! The problem with being too gracious is that you end up getting more of what you don’t like because now the other person thinks you like that sort of thing. Kids are smarter in this respect. They don’t want the crappy present and they make sure they never get another one like it again.

But the point remains that one of the goals of parenting is to teach our children manners and learning how to accept gifts we don’t like without blurting out how much we hate it is part of that. But we also don’t want to teach our children to lie. So how do you get around this very awkward and sticky situation?

These are my rules for accepting gifts for Aristotle (okay so we’re not quite there yet, but we’re working on it):

  1. Always say “thank you” even if you don’t like it because it’s polite.
  2. It isn’t necessary to say you don’t like it because it could hurt the other person’s feelings. As long as they don’t ask you what you think of the present, the best answer is to keep quiet about what you think about it – technically a lie by omission but let’s not dwell on it.
  3. If you get forced into an answer then the truth comes out (well, they asked for it!) but we try to soften the blow a little by saying we don’t really like it rather than “I HATE IT!”

I guess this is just one of those grey areas in life where there are no right or wrong answers – merely the answers that fit best with your own morals and values and the order of importance that you place upon each.

To avoid embarassment, it is probably best to tackle this issue in private before an incident arises and talk about being gracious when receiving gifts we don’t like. And if you do get caught by surprise, try not to be too hard on your child because he doesn’t know the etiquette of receiving gifts. I do think we tend to over-react when we’re embarrassed by our childrens’ responses.

In the continuing journey of life, our children have a lot to learn as they try to decipher these cryptic, unspoken rules of society. As parents, we have just as much to learn about how to teach these rules and how to deal with the consequences when we forget to prompt our children before hand. Children will slip up and we will look like bad parents but as long as we’re constantly trying to correct it and striving to do good by our children, I think it’s all anyone can ask for – don’t you?

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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