Grandparents and Gift-Giving: Avoiding the Pitfalls by Ellen Begley, M.Ed., RN, NCC, LPC

If given a chance, even less resourceful children quickly learn to ask grandma and grandpa when they don’t get what they want.

Most parents desire for their children to know and appreciate grandparents, so they strive to enhance the positive and special memories that their children have with grandparents.

The trouble is that long and careful months—or even years—of hard work patiently teaching your children to make choices between needs and wants can be jeopardized. As a result, gift giving becomes a sensitive family issue.

To work through this inevitable circumstance with grandparents, here are a few tips.

In conversation with the grandparents, focus on the importance of memories and not things. If part of a cherished family memory involves purchasing things, then you will want to manage tactfully the frequency and extravagance of the presents.

When having this conversation, evaluate the degree to which the grandparents understand your boundaries on gift giving. Communicate your values in relation to material possessions. Perhaps gently remind them how important it was as they raised their own children and how well they managed to keep life lessons consistent.

When asked directly, children will often tell you that the attention of their grandparents is what they really desire. Therefore, it may be helpful to suggest that the grandparents introduce a special hobby or activity they can share, experience, and enjoy with the kids. If grandparents live nearby, this will be easier.

If they live some distance away, they may still be able to develop that special interest with each child electronically; sending emails and making phone calls will often sustain the interest and nurture the relationship. The invention of Skype has encouraged many grandparents to improve their computer skills so that they can have direct visual communication with their family.

At traditional gift giving times, such as birthdays or Christmas, give grandparents some specific ideas for presents. One simple rule is to ask grandparents to talk with you before giving a gift. Perhaps they will even cooperate within an appropriate price range that you suggest. They want your children to enjoy their gifts and should appreciate your input.

Last, consider having a homemade gift exchange where the children swap something they made with something that the grandparents made. This can be as simple as a picture and a cupcake.