The more we try to give a “perfect” gift, the more we expect our effort to be appreciated. A delighted facial expression, a surprised joyful laugh, a great “thank-you,” and a big hug–that lets us know we made the right choice, and we feel rewarded.
Sometimes this puts a lot of pressure on both children and adults. In the book “Nurture Shock,” Po Bronson points out that children are expected to say “Thank you” and act happy–even when they are disappointed.
What adults fail to recognize is that young children do not take intentions as an excuse: The fact that the parents meant to make a good choice of present, but the child actually wanted something else, puts the child in a bind: If he or she says what they really feel, they will hurt their parents’ feelings. If they choose to make the parents happy, they will lie. So by demanding good manners, we are demanding lying. This is the conclusion of many research surveys, and as parents we should know this.
If you are going to coach a child to act in a sensitive way, you must take his or her age into account . In the early years, the child will understand such coaching as permission to lie. This is a very challenging fact for parents to deal with, and there is no simple answer as to what to do.
But knowing this, maybe we can take the pressure off the youngsters in the family, and give them some time to figure things out,. Perhaps for a while, we can let them feel free to express their true feelings about the gifts they receive. They might be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or just simply not excited.
Let them know you love them no matter what they feel. You know in your heart what the choice of gift was intended to communicate, and that their appreciation might not come right away. This way you give your child an opportunity to mature, under the wings of your love, and allow them to figure out the right use of “white lies” when he or she is old enough to deal with social complexity.