How do you feel when you give or receive a great gift?
As adults, we tend to either absolutely love giving and receiving gifts or the entire notion of gifts seems to make us feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed, annoyed, or even disgusted.
For those of us that love gifting, it can be a way to show and accept love with people we care about and we are excited to brainstorm gift ideas for an upcoming birthday or holiday. For those of us who get anxious, frustrated, or stressed by gifting, we may be worried that the gift we are giving isn’t good enough or that others spent too much of their time or money on a gift for us. We feel awkward watching people open gifts and even more awkward being watched as we open gifts.
The distaste for gifting may go so far as to make someone believe a person who joyously gives and receives gifts is shallow. And there can certainly be a shame or guilt felt by someone who wants and loves to receive gifts, especially after a certain age.
However it is we feel about gifting, it is likely connected to our childhood and what role gifting played in our lives as we were growing up. My mother showed love most comfortably through giving thoughtful gifts. The holidays were a big deal in our family and I inherited my mother’s love of gift-giving from her into my adulthood. My partner, however, was raised in a family that stopped giving physical gifts by the time he and his siblings were in middle school. They spent the holidays solely focused on spending time with each other.
Our contrasting childhood experiences have affected how we both feel going to each other’s’ family homes for holidays. He feels stress seeing my family because he knows my mother will give him a gift that perfectly matches his personality — and receiving that gift makes him feel uncomfortable. Conversely, I feel less festive when we go to his family’s homes, as they focus on spending time together and expect us not to bring them gifts. We have both come to appreciate each other’s families and their holiday traditions, but it definitely involved adjusting to a way of celebrating that we were not used to and a lot of open conversations.
The way we grow up with gifting and our family traditions with the holiday season typically affect how we view and demonstrate gift giving and receiving skills. In the book, The 5 Love Languages of Children, Dr. Gary Chapman advises that we aim to equally expose children to all the love languages (words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, and of course, gifts). If one or more of these love languages aren’t experienced often throughout childhood, there is a higher likelihood that that particular love language will either become that child’s dominant language as an adult or become one they are uncomfortable with, causing misunderstanding and anxiety.
With all of this in mind, and major gift-giving holidays right around the corner, we decided to ask our campers questions to help them reflect on their own feelings surrounding gifting, like how they feel when they receive a great gift, how they feel when they receive a gift they didn’t really want, and what makes a gift special. Gifting is still very exciting for most children in this age group, so we hoped these reflective questions might help them connect with why gift receiving is exciting for them and how they can take an empathetic approach to creating their own gifts to give that the receiver will love.
Their responses to these questions were honest and insightful. They shared the feelings they experience when they receive a great gift — among them were happy, excited, joyful, and thankful. They also shared their feelings when they receive a gift they didn’t really want, like pressure to not hurt someone’s feelings by masking their own — an uncomfortable feeling that approaches the line of dishonesty. When we got to the question “what makes a gift special,” I had several additional questions teed up to tease out the three main take-aways I wanted them all to leave with. It turned out, all they needed was a relevant, interesting question and a safe space held for differing opinions and honest discussion. In reflecting on the initial question I posed, this group of about fifteen 7-12 year olds shared thoughts on every point I hoped they would hit with no additional help from me.
One child gave a concrete example to illustrate her thoughts on what makes a gift special: “If your friend loves to collect red bouncy balls, you wouldn’t get them socks. You would get them a red bouncy ball because that is what they like!” This led the discussion into how personalization can make gifts feel really special because we are showing that we know a person and what they like. Another child shared that she appreciates gifts the most when she can tell someone put in a lot of time and effort to find or make the perfect gift for her and many in the group shared agreeing thoughts. Another shared that an expensive gift makes her feel cared for because someone decided to spend their own hard-earned money on her.
This discussion was the perfect launch into our 3-week gift-making camp. We’ve taken money out of the equation and focused on time, effort and personalization as we create hand-made gifts out of recyclables and other simple craft materials. Campers can get inspiration from the “DIY Gift Guide” we created of festive and personalizable gifts, but are also encouraged to create whatever gift would be most special for someone they love. As we go into this holiday season, we hope our campers feel more connected to their gift giving and receiving skills and continue to feel comfortable with this love language into adulthood.