How To Politely Ask Relatives Not To Spoil Your Kids During The Holidays

Etiquette experts share their advice on how parents can handle the gift-giving conversation.

Many parents go to great lengths to teach their children that the holiday season isn’t all about getting gifts. But sometimes well-intentioned relatives derail those efforts by spoiling the kiddos with mountains of new toys.

Of course, no one wants to be a grinch, but family gift-giving can spiral out of control and cause issues. So it’s important to communicate your concerns and avoid adding more stress to the holiday season.

HuffPost spoke to a couple of etiquette experts to find out the polite way to deal with family members’ tendency to spoil your kids during the holidays.

There are polite, tactful ways to approach relatives who go overboard during the holidays.
Niedring/Drentwett via Getty Images
There are polite, tactful ways to approach relatives who go overboard during the holidays.

Discuss It In Advance

Don’t wait until the week of the holiday to make your request.

“It’s ideal to be preemptive about this,” said Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “It’s not uncommon for grandparents, especially if it’s the first grandchild, to really go overboard.”

Smith recommended having a casual conversation over coffee, making a phone call or even sending an email depending on your relationship with the family member.

Don’t Be Too Presumptuous

“You don’t want to say you assume they’ll be buying your children gifts because that would be greedy and presumptuous,” said Smith.

She offered suggestions on how to bring up the subject without coming off that way.

“You might say, ‘I was reading an article about how it can be overwhelming for children to get too many gifts at once. It got me thinking, if you wanted to give the kids gifts for the holidays, these are the types of things I hope you’d consider,’” Smith said.

You can also draw from past experiences when making your request. Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas, offered another possible script to that end.

“If there is a history of overindulgence, maybe say, ‘Gosh we have so much now, we don’t know what to do with it,’” she said. “Say, ‘We’re up to our ears in toys and just don’t have the space anymore. Maybe don’t go overboard with gifts this time. We would prefer Johnny receive just one small token from you, something he’ll remember. Could you spend the amount you’d spend on a gift on someone who is less fortunate this time? Or you could even donate money in his name.’”

Suggest Options

It can be useful to offer family members a list of gifts you may want for your child or to talk about a big-ticket item they could contribute to.

“You can suggest so many options, even beyond toys and games,” said Smith, who emphasized the value of experience-based gifts. “There are activities like dance lessons or going to a show.”

If relatives are insistent on giving the child an item to unwrap, they can choose an object that plays into the experience gift.

“They can give them a karate uniform and the gift certificate to take classes or an apron and spatula to go with a baking class,” Smith noted. “So there’s something tangible for them to open, but the bulk is in the experience.”

Acknowledge Their Perspective

It’s important to understand that gift indulgence usually comes from a loving place.

“Be sensitive because these conversations involve people’s love languages,” Smith said. “Sometimes people say ‘I love you’ in gifts and pour a lot into the holiday season and gift-giving.”

New grandparents, in particular, are often excited to give gifts, but their generosity can be acknowledged while also redirected.

“My first child was the first grandchild on both sides, and we were getting lots of gifts,” Smith recalled. “I finally told the grandparents, ‘This isn’t going to be your last grandchild. Whatever you’re doing needs to be scalable. While you have one grandchild right now and it seems easy to heap presents upon this child, you’re going to need to give within a realm of reason when you have eight or nine. We don’t want your ninth grandchild to get so much less because your first got so much more.’ That helped give perspective.”

Establish New Gift-Giving Traditions

Parents can keep the toy mania at bay by setting parameters and practices. Price and quantity limits are an option, as are fun new traditions.

“Just have a family exchange where everybody picks names,” Gottsman recommended. “That way there aren’t those expectations that everyone has to give gifts to everyone. You can even suggest a Secret Santa or White Elephant (gift exchange), including kids if it’s age-appropriate.”

Accept What’s Out Of Your Control

You can offer guidelines, share suggestions and make requests, but ultimately, your relatives will choose what to give your children.

“Family relationships tend to be heightened around this time of year, and if you tell certain people not to buy your children a lot of things, they may take that as a challenge and really overdo it,” Smith said. “Don’t get into a battle of wills with a new grandparent. You can’t control other people’s behavior. But you can control what’s happening with your kids once everybody goes home, so think about what you want to do for your children.”

If a grandparent does end up giving your kids tons of extra gifts, you can graciously accept them but also have a strategy of what to do after the relatives leave. Smith recommends letting the kids unwrap all of their presents but not opening those that are in boxes, and then have each child choose one toy to open and play with in the moment.

“Then when the family leaves, you as the parent can take the remaining unopened boxes and put them away in a closet somewhere,” she said. “You can save the other toys for a rainy day or have your child choose a portion to donate to kids in need. Even really young kids understand if you tell them, ‘There are kids who don’t get any presents, and you are so fortunate to have so many. Which of these would you want to give to someone who didn’t receive anything this year?’ Let them prioritize.”

Keep The Toys With The Gift-Giver

“If there’s a toy you don’t want in your house, consider leaving it at the gift-giver’s house,” Smith suggested.

For example, if a grandmother gives a few toys as gifts, parents can ask their child to choose one or two to leave at her house to play with there.

This can also be an opportunity for a sharing lesson: By leaving the gifts at the grandmother’s house, the child gives cousins a chance to play with the toys when they visit as well.

Don’t Forget To Say Thank You

Even if your relatives don’t heed your gift-giving requests and even if you choose to donate the presents, it’s still important to be a gracious recipient.

“If someone gifts your child a gift, it would be rude to say, ‘He doesn’t need this!’ Say, ‘Thank you for thinking of us.’” Gottsman advised.

Added Smith, “No matter what you do with the gifts, you have to write thank you notes for all of them.”

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