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Gifts Giving and Receiving

Dr. Catherine Pearlman on

Dear Family Coach: A friend visited recently and brought a toy for both of my children. The 5-year-old received an awesome puzzle, and the 3-year-old received a dolphin bath toy. Unfortunately, my older son became obsessed with his brother's dolphin. He pushed his gift aside and obsessed over the dolphin. I tried to get them to share, but it became a source of constant bickering and tantrums for my older son. In the end, I took it away, but that felt unfair. What should I have done? -- Caught Mom

Dear Caught: How sweet that your friend brought the boys gifts. How sad that your oldest ruined the moment for everyone. But really, he isn't to blame. You are. The good news is that you can easily undo the damage so it doesn't happen again.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say your oldest didn't actually care about the dolphin; he only coveted the item because his little brother wanted it (hello, sibling rivalry). The big boy aspired to see whether he could make it his. And if he couldn't have it, then no one should have it.

Well, mission accomplished. You took it away.

Your oldest has learned from experience that whining and complaining are highly effective behaviors in obtaining attention or a tangible reward. Whenever he doesn't get what he wants, he employs his unpleasantness. In response, you devote lots of attention and time to placating him. Every time you mediate or lecture your son about his complaining, you are only reinforcing his behavior. That means he will continue to act up to get what he wants.

What you should have done was tell the oldest that if he didn't stop carrying on, you would take his puzzle away. Then, you should have ignored all of his pleas to play with the dolphin. When he realizes that none of his antics work to obtain the dolphin and he is at risk of losing the toy he'd received, he would improve his behavior.

Let your son tantrum without trying to mediate it. When these tantrums become ineffective, they will slowly be replaced with more appropriate behavior.


Dear Family Coach: My daughter has eclectic tastes, but she tries to think very carefully about gifts before she chooses one. Unfortunately, the recipients are often less than gracious. On one occasion, my daughter picked out a handmade Peruvian doll for a friend. The bratty girl made it clear she didn't like it. I tried to tell the mom that we could get the girl an additional gift, but she shut me down. Another time, after a child didn't like the gift we gave, my daughter made an additional card and a beaded bracelet for the birthday girl. The girl told my daughter she wouldn't wear the bracelet and expects fancier gifts. What's a parent to do? -- Exasperated

Dear Exasperated: Unfortunately, some parents aren't teaching manners or how to be gracious when receiving a less-than-perfect present. There isn't much you can do about that. All you can control is how you react and what you teach your children.

Focus on teaching your kids the joy in giving regardless of how it is received. Making a gift is thoughtful. Sure, some people may not express appreciation. But that doesn't make the gesture less special. If someone doesn't like your family's gift, don't try to give another gift in its place, and certainly don't apologize. Those actions only serve to validate the awful behavior. Instead, talk to your children about how they feel. Help them understand that being grateful matters. And provide them empathy for their hurt feelings.


Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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