What to Do When Your Kid Rejects a Gift and Acts Like a Spoiled Brat

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As grandma excitedly hands your offspring a beautifully-wrapped sweater, you wait with bated breath…what’s your child going to do? Of course, you know what you would like her to do. In an ideal world, she would accept the sweater with a big smile and a sincere, “What a great gift, thank you Nana!” The more likely scenario? Your little monster will barely mutter “thanks,” before dropping said gift on the floor and running away to play with another toy.

Happily, help is at hand this holiday season from clinical psychologist and parenting guidance provider Dr. Becky Kennedy. Here are her expert tips for how to handle gift receiving and how to build gratitude.

“Gratitude is a feeling, not a behavior,” explains Dr. Becky in an Instagram video. “Yes, I want [kids] to act with more gratitude, but the more often they feel gratitude then the more they will act with gratitude.” So how do you teach your kid to actually feel grateful? You make space for it (more on that below).

But first, here’s some insight into what’s going on in your child’s brain. See, your son or daughter probably has an idea of what they want for the holidays or their birthday, like a video game or a Yoda plush toy (but definitely not a knitted jumper). And so, when they open up grandma’s gift and it’s not what they wanted, they’re going to be disappointed. And that’s OK, says Dr. Becky. “Parents need to understand the complexity of emotions around gift giving,” she explains. “We can’t have space in our bodies for a feeling like gratitude until we regulate the initial feelings that naturally come up for all of us.” In other words, your child has to regulate their feelings of disappointment about not getting what they wanted in order to have space for gratefulness for what they did get.

OK, sounds great in theory but how can you put this into practice?

Before the gift giving takes place

Prepare your kid for a range of feelings before any presents actually get unwrapped, advises Dr. Becky. “When we talk about a feeling that we’re going to have in advance, we ‘pre-regulate’ it. We emotionally vaccinate it...we get our bodies ready [so] when it comes, we’re more able to regulate it and there’s more space for the perspective that’s involved in finding gratitude for a gift we didn’t want.”

Here’s what that might look like: “Grandma’s coming over later and she’s probably going to give you some gifts. You know, gift giving and gift receiving is tricky. Sometimes we have a lot of feelings: we might feel excited to get a gift, we might feel disappointed that the gift isn’t exactly what we want, we might feel mad because we thought we were going to get something and then we didn’t, and we might feel grateful because someone thought of us at all. It’s so complicated...What feelings do you think will come up for you if, when you open grandma’s gift, it’s not what you thought it was?”

After the gift giving takes place

Your kid unwraps grandma’s sweater and screams, “I don’t want it!” And while it’s tempting to shout, “You’re being so rude, say thank you!” Dr Becky has a different approach.

“It’s key to regulate yourself,” she says. “That might mean thinking to yourself: ‘My son’s not spoiled, he’s disappointed and he doesn’t know how to regulate that disappointment right now.’”

And here’s what she would say to grandma in the moment: “I think Alex is having one of those things where he thought it would be something and it wasn’t… and his whole body is feeling so much disappointment right now. I know he’s grateful you thought of him, grandma, he just needs a little time before he gets there.” She would then talk to her son on the side and say: “Oh, you really thought it would be something else. Two things are true: You’re really disappointed and I know you’re also grateful that grandma got you something—not the thing you want though, how tricky.”

Why does this work? “I’m prompting, I’m reflecting back the part of my kid that I’m working toward,” says Dr. Becky. “Rather than give him labels and titles (like ‘entitled,’ ‘spoiled’ and ‘so rude’) that’s only reflecting back the version of him that I’m trying to move away from.

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Alexia Dellner

Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...
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