The Santa Complex: Giving kids gifts

by EPI Staff on June 16, 2009

Q:My friend has a 5-year-old son to whom I occasionally bring a small gift.  Recently I called her to plan a visit and he took the phone and asked me what I was going to bring him.  My friend and I laughed out loud, but now I feel expected to get him something.  What should I do?

A: What you’ve been doing all along.  Bring him a gift from time to time-which doesn’t mean this time.  In fact, if you suddenly start showing up regularly with presents, you’ll be doing the child a disservice by reinforcing expectations that are inappropriate.  While it’s not unusual for children to ask for gifts, your friend’s son is old enought to learn the basics of courteous and thoughtful behavior.  But it’s his parent’s job, not yours, to teach him that it’s bad manners to ask people to bring him things.  Since you don’t now if she’s spoken to him about his behavior, you’d be out of line if you said anything to her about it.  You can tactfully allude to incident next time you’re there by saying to the boy, “It’s so great to see you! I hope you know how much I enjoy visiting you, even though I can’t bring you something everytime I come.”  That leaves the door open for your friend to take the matter further if she wants to.

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