COL EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Martha Erickson is taking a month off from writing her column. This column previously ran.

This holiday season is a wonderful time of giving to family, to friends and, I hope, even to strangers in need. Certainly it is in the holiday spirit to focus on the needs and desires of others and to give with love, joy and enthusiasm. But the spirit of the season is also reflected in the way we receive gifts.

Children, with their uncensored emotions, usually haven't mastered the fine art of receiving gifts. In fact, I remember with chagrin the time when my son, then 5 years old, opened a gift from my mother and exclaimed unabashedly, "Oh no ... I hate when people give me clothes!" My sweet mother, who thought Ryan would love that red striped shirt, looked as if she didn't know whether to laugh or cry! And Ryan, now 25, still remembers vividly the lesson he got that day in graceful receiving.

Indeed, most of us have received gifts that are the last thing we'd ever choose for ourselves. And it is inevitable that our children sometimes will face disappointment when those mysterious packages are finally opened. But to nurture in our children the true Christmas spirit, we need to guide them in looking beyond the gift.

We need to encourage them to focus on the intention of the giver. For example, we might say, "Grandma really looked hard to find something that she thought you would like. She loves you very much." Whether the gift is fun, useful or none of the above, consider its value as a symbol of someone's caring. For example, "When you wear that shirt you can remember Grandma's visit and how much fun you had with her."

Of course, your child's graciousness in receiving gifts starts with you. How do you respond when you receive a gift? What do you do with those treasures that may not be quite what you had in mind? How do you demonstrate for your child your true appreciation for the love and care that went into each gift you have received?


I remember hearing in Sunday school as a child that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Surely there should be joy in the act of giving, whether or not we get an enthusiastic thank-you in return. But the blessings of giving are multiplied when the receiver truly cherishes our act of giving. So, for those who care enough to give to you and your family during this holiday season, bless them with your deep and heartfelt gratitude for the love their gift represents. And, in so doing, help your children learn to do the same.

Dr. Martha Erickson, a senior fellow in the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development, invites questions on child rearing. E-mail them to or send them to Growing Concerns, U of M News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.

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