215 Ferris Avenue, East Providence, RI 02916 | 401-432-9940

Gift Getting 101

We’ve all gotten those gifts. The turkey salt shakers, the book you already read, the sweater circa 1970, the slippers that look like farm animals, the bright blue cordial glasses you’ll never use, the mini-donut maker when you’ve given up sugar.

The thing about getting a gift is that it’s not as straightforward as it seems. At times, we need to demonstrate excitement when we aren’t that excited in order not to hurt someone’s feelings. There are other skills involved as well, like taking turns, saying thank you, paying attention to one gift before ripping into the next, watching other people open their gifts, not saying things like, “I really don’t need more dish towels.”

Imagine how hard all this is for a child who has trouble with attention, reading social cues, perspective taking, and impulse control. Opening holiday gifts will go more smoothly if you put a few strategies in place and teach your Complex Learner some of the unspoken rules.

  • Explain to your child that everyone gets gifts they may not like but it’s important not to hurt the “givers” feelings. Role play what to do and say when your child gets a gift they either don’t care about, or don’t like very much.
  • If you can, arrange the order of presents from less interesting to most interesting so your child doesn’t open the first gift and get so involved with it he/she doesn’t want to open anything else.
  • Teach your child the way your family open gifts at different gatherings or times. Does everyone take turns at Grandmas, do kids go first all at once at your house, or is someone in charge of handing gifts out? Letting your child in on the “structure” of gift giving will help them understand what happens when and how he/she should behave.
  • If your child gets restless while other people open gifts give them a job like gathering all the wrapping paper in a trash bag or finding a present for the next person.
  • If opening gifts is a noisy affair at your house, you may want to let your child open a gift or two and then go to a quieter space to play or watch a movie.

Watch from year to year how your child manages getting gifts as his/her abilities and focus may change. You will learn where there’s potential for problems and what works well and be able to apply what you’ve learned the next time.

What have you learned that might work for other kids?

Want to get notified when there’s a new World of Complex Learners blog post? Subscribe to our blog!


Anna Johnson, Head of School at The Wolf School, is a devoted, passionate educator with more than 17 years of classroom and leadership experience. She holds a BA and MAT from Brown University and speaks locally and nationally on topics related to Complex Learners.

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.