It’s an annual tradition of the holidays: Your young child receives a gift for Christmas, they dislike it, and they show their negativity openly. It’s an awful feeling for everyone involved and it happens in our house at least two or three times each holiday season.

With young kids, it’s almost impossible to expect them to show the adultlike gravitas that comes with years of training. Heck, I’d bet that we all know some adults who are not very good at disguising their emotions when they get a gift they don’t want.

Even though our kids may lack the cognitive ability to graciously handle these situations, parents should still try to prepare them for this possibility.

Here are some ways to do that:

1. Talk to Your Kids About Why They Get Gifts

It can be difficult for children to understand the reasons behind gift-giving. All they know is that they walk into a room in someone’s house and there are a ton of wrapped packages. They probably think that all of those gifts are for them. Explain to your kids that they receive gifts at Christmas because family members and friends love them and want to share the miracle of the Christmas season with them.

Your kids need to know that the gifts are a treat or a privilege and that they are fortunate to be receiving them. If your child can even begin to grasp this concept, it will go a long way toward helping them understand why they need to show courtesy and gratitude when receiving a gift.

2. Have the Conversation Ahead of Time

A few weeks before Christmas, or before your child begins receiving gifts, begin the conversation. Explain to them that they might be getting some gifts for the holidays and you want to discuss how they handle that. They need to know that there is a time to get the gifts and they should be respectful of everyone who generously gives them something. If you can think of an example from years past, use that as a guide. Make sure you repeat this conversation often over the coming days to let the lesson sink in.

3. Give Them a Response

If your child has a script to go by, it might help them navigate this situation. You can tell them no matter what gift the receive, they should address the giver of the gift, look them in the eye, say "thank you," and move on. If there’s an issue with the gift, remind them to quietly tell you or your spouse and you can discuss it discreetly.

4. Give Them Specific Examples

You might want to role play a little bit.

  • What if you get this item?
  • How do you react if you get clothes from Grandma?
  • What if you don’t get the Lego set you are dying for? 

If you can help them think through scenarios, it might help them prepare.

5. When Someone Gets a Better Gift...

This often occurs when there are multiple kids around — one child gets a gift that your kid thinks is much cooler than the one they received. Your child begins to pout or get jealous. It makes the giver feel bad, there are usually arguments, and maybe even some tears. No one wants that, especially on a holiday.

As you discuss this topic with your child, make sure they are prepared for this possibility. You could say, “Remember that your cousins will also be receiving gifts. If they get something that you think is better than your gift, try to keep it to yourself. If you dislike your gift, quietly tell me and I’ll put it aside. Maybe we can exchange it for something else.”

6. Explain the Consequences

If your child does not act appropriately, you need to make sure they realize there will be consequences to their actions. Maybe they won’t get any more gifts. Maybe they’ll need to apologize to the person they offended. Maybe they’ll be forced to leave the party. Whatever it is, try to find a consequence that is age-appropriate and fits the situation.

7. Praise Them

If your child responds appropriately if they get a gift they don’t like, make sure to praise them quietly in the moment. This way it reinforces what you’ve taught them and encourages them to continue the behavior in the future.