We know it can be hard to stay gracious when you unwrap an old book instead of that video game you wanted for the holidays, no matter how old you are. Still, each time your child gets a present is an opportunity to reinforce the virtues of empathy, appreciation and gratitude. Try these nine tactics for teaching gift giving and getting etiquette to your child.

  • Manage Expectations. Before your child writes a wish list, discuss what he expects this season. How many gifts will he get? Will they be one big gift or several smaller gifts? Will this year be different than last year? How so?
  • Make an Intangible Wish List. “Our society is so focused on the commercial that it can be hard to refocus,” says Hilary Brennan, etiquette instructor and owner of Socially Savvy. Encourage your child to add things that don’t come from the store to his wish list. A trip to a play or movie with a relative, a special visit from a friend, or time to work on a project together can be just as magical as a new toy.
  • Prep Them to Be Good Gift Getters. Before a party or event, explain that he will be getting gifts and everyone will be watching to see what he thinks of it, so it’s nice to smile and say “Thank you!” You may practice the reaction he has, or role-play the gift giving and receiving with stuffed animals or dolls.
  • The Etiquette of Receiving. As much as we focus on giving, we also need to teach kids to receive gifts. “The first thing we need to teach children is appreciation,” says Dr. Michele Borba, EdD, parenting expert, “it’s a simple way to teach empathy.”  
  • Encourage Enthusiasm. Remind your child that even if a present may be not exactly what he wished for, someone went out of the way to buy him something. Also, remind older children that even if they say “thank you,” their face will give them away if they hate a present, so they should always find something to appreciate.
  • Write Thank You Notes. “Saying thank you actually does increase optimism in kids,” says Borba. Even young children can write thank you notes that include their name, a note and a drawing of how they’ve enjoyed their gift. If you’re thanking relatives far away, you could Skype a thank you or take photos of your child with their gift to send with the note.
  • Model Gift Giving. Before holiday shopping, talk about what you know about the people you’re going to buy presents for. Does Grandma have a hobby that you should learn more about before you go shopping? Does a younger cousin have a favorite color or television character? How can you use that information to buy a thoughtful gift?
  • Put Your Child in Charge. When you go to another family’s event, have your child pick out a hostess gift. Use the opportunity to talk about the purpose of the event and who the hosts are, to choose something that they will like.
  • Charitable Giving. Elena Neitlich, etiquette instructor and owner of Etiquette Moms, recommends having your child pick a local organization that she cares about, like Toys for Tots or an animal shelter, and choose a gift for them. Then arrange a time to go in for an in-person donation.

May these ideas show your family that learning opportunities are everywhere during the holidays. From the first holiday sale to unwrapping the final gift, teach your child the real joy of the holidays this season.