Opening presents is supposed to be fun, not frustrating. But for kids who have trouble with impulsivity, gift exchanges can be full of potential pitfalls. Here’s what to look out for, and how you can help before the big day and in the moment.
1. Practice not giving away the surprise.
The situation: As your child hands a wrapped present to her cousin, she announces, “It’s a jewelry box!”
Plan-ahead strategy: Rehearse the gift-giving process. Practice receiving and giving gifts. Remind her—even in the car ride over to her cousin’s house—that the surprise is key.
On-the-spot response: “The best part is seeing people open the present! Try to keep the secret with the next one.”
2. Slow the pace by giving her a job.
The situation: When it’s time to open gifts, your child tears through all of her presents before anyone else gets to open a single one.
Plan-ahead strategy: Tell your child it will be her job to hand a gift to each person. Then she can take one of her own, and everyone can open a gift at the same time.
On-the-spot response: “Hold on—before you take a present for yourself, your aunt and uncle still need theirs.”
3. Set sharing guidelines.
The situation: Your child grabs the toy her brother just unwrapped right out of his hands.
Plan-ahead strategy: Discuss how others may get gifts she finds interesting. Once all the gifts are open, she can ask to look at them. Practice saying things like, “When you’re done playing, can I see it?”
On-the-spot response: “Please hand that back right now. He can give you a turn with it later, but it’s his to play with right now.” Remind her how angry she would be if he grabbed her gift.
4. Find ways to avoid overexcitement.
The situation: Your child is so excited about the snow globe she just unwrapped that she accidentally drops and nearly breaks it.
Plan-ahead strategy: If your child fixates on things that excite her, come up with ways to redirect her focus. You might ask her to take a photo for you, or “interview” people about their gifts.
On-the-spot response: “You sure do like that snow globe! But let’s be a little more careful. Please set it on the table for now. Now could you take a photo of Grandma with her gift?”
5. Set expectations.
The situation: After opening all of her gifts, your child cries out, “But I wanted a scooter!”
Plan-ahead strategy: Talk to your child about budgeting, and how you and other family members have a set amount of money to spend on holiday gifts. Explain that she may not get the most expensive gift on her list, but she’ll get others.
On-the-spot response: “I’m sorry this isn’t what you expected. I see you’re disappointed. Let’s look at your presents and see the other cool things you got.”
6. Give simple presents first.
The situation: After unwrapping each gift, your child rips open the box to play immediately. Toy pieces go flying, and some get lost.
Plan-ahead strategy: Give “fidgets” and other small toys for her to open first. Encourage her to quietly play with those while others open their gifts. Leave the large toy sets for her to open last.
On-the-spot response: “Let’s find all the pieces and then put this toy in the other room for now. In the meantime, you can open and play with small toys.”