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You Got My Child That?

December 29, 2011

The holidays are filled with so many wonderful things: family, friends, parties, religious endeavors, and, of course, gifts. All of these things can bring us joy (along with the requisite stress), but it is the gifts that often create the greatest source of concern, especially if you have to worry about what people around you are going to be purchasing for your daughter. Very often, people buy things that are meaningful to them, and not as meaningful to the receiver. Additionally, not everyone will respect your desire to promote your daughter’s empowerment.

Situations involving gifts do pose a unique challenge. People in your life may not have the level of awareness you do, nor will they share your concerns or have the same values about what will promote a positive sense of self and confidence in your daughter. In fact, many people you know may think you are making much ado about nothing. It is inevitable that your awareness will lead to a situation when what you want is not in line with what other people want. For example, your sister may think that the Monster High dolls are totally appropriate, cute and fun and the perfect gift for your 6-year-old. You, on the other hand, do not want this to be the message your daughter receives. How do you handle a situation such as this?

First and foremost, as her parent, you get to decide. You may accept the toy, and not allow her to use it. It may
mean returning the gift. It also may mean talking with the gift-giver about why this is not an appropriate gift for your daughter. These conversations are not going to be fun, and, it is so important that you lead by example and advocate for your daughter’s needs.

In my book Princess Recovery, four important points are highlighted to help you manage these instances when they arrive (and, be prepared, because they will!).

Educate Gently: It is important to speak up and to be sure you are heard by the important people in your life. It is essential to do this in a way that you are hear and respected. Speak your mind clearly, and with appreciation. Always say thank you, followed by how you feel. For example, you could say, “Thank you so much for the gift. I know this is the hot toy right now. Although we appreciate the gesture, we prefer not to have this type of toy in our house. I’d be happy to provide you with other options, or, you can keep the toy for your daughter, if you’d like!”

This might not be easy to say, especially if your initial reaction is more emotional. Take a breath, and a minute, and be open, honest and direct about what you think.

Be Specific: You are providing education to those around you, so it is important to be sure they really understand where you are coming from (without shoving it down their throats). You know what you mean when you say you would prefer “gender neutral” toys, but your mother-in-law might not. Explain what you mean, and why you are making this request. Discuss why this is important to you and the development of your daughter’s healthy self-esteem. Providing this kind of guidance will increase understanding, decrease conflict and confusion and promote positive interactions. And, you never know, you might encourage someone in your life to see things a different way!

Consider the Relationship: Focus on the relationship with the gift-giver over the gift. You may not agree with the gift, but know that taking a strong stance against it will potentially create damage with the person giving it to your daughter. Keep that in mind when you consider making a fuss. It may be easier to graciously accept the gift, and then have it “magically” disappear. This is also an opportunity to talk with your daughter about why the gift may be giving the wrong message or offer alternative toys that you do approve of. Doing either of these things will dull down the message and make the experience less damaging.

Advocate for Your Daughter: Gifts are a time for you to advocate for your daughter and teach her to advocate for herself. Have open dialogues about why a gift may be inappropriate, talking with her in an age-appropriate way. Be prepared for questions, and possibly, some tantruming. Be mindful not to make promises you will not be able to keep.

You can say something like: “Your dad and I don’t think this toy will teach you positive things. Let’s go find some other options that might.” The key here is to identify the values you want to instill in your daughter, and use these gift receiving opportunities to highlight them.

The holidays bring joy and happiness, and can also a time of great stress for many different reasons. Gift-giving, and receiving, should not be an added source of stress. If you are prepared, and ready for whatever might come your daughter’s way, you can keep the gifts you don’t approve of out of your home . . . and enjoy all of the fun—while maintaining the positive relationships—that you want to be part of the holiday.

Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD, author of Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters, a child and adolescent psychologist, is a regular correspondent for The Early Show. She has also appeared on Fox News, the Today show, and Headline News. Dr. Hartstein uses a variety of treatment approaches that promote strong self-awareness, distress tolerance, and acceptance. She lives in New York City.

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