For grandparents who enjoy giving to their grandchildren, Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year. Lurking in all that Yuletide cheer, however, are a few hazards. Sometimes grandparents give gifts that land them on the naughty list. To stay on the good side of Santa — and the parents — follow these rules when giving gifts to your grandchildren.
1. Don’t buy better gifts than the parents.
If you are a grandparent with financial resources, you may be tempted to spring for big-ticket items that the parents can’t afford. Never do this without a frank discussion with the parents. If you really want to give a grandchild something expensive, consider kicking in part of the purchase price and letting the parents contribute, too, so that both parents and grandparents can share in the credit.
Occasionally, a grandparent’s gift may be a child’s favorite — because it’s hard to predict which gift a child will love. That’s unavoidable. What can be avoided is a gift so big or so expensive that it makes a parent’s gift look small.
2. Don’t buy other “special” gifts.
Some gifts are special just because they are the first of their kind. A bicycle is one example. Parents may want the privilege of buying the first bike for a child. Grandparents shouldn’t assume that it’s okay to buy a “first” gift. Always ask before you buy. A just-released toy or game could also fall into the “special” category. If it’s the season’s hottest toy, the parents may want to be the ones to give it.
In a similar vein, don’t buy a grandchild a pet of any kind without getting clearance first. First, pets do fall into that category of special gifts. But the second, far more important reason is that pets require considerable commitment of time and money from their owners. Realistically, the burden of pet ownership is going to fall on the parents, not on the children — so the parents should be consulted.
3. Don’t buy gifts that don’t “fit.”
If you are buying clothing for grandchildren, of course it should fit, but grandparents are sometimes guilty of buying gifts that don’t “fit” in a larger sense. Sometimes we see that sparkly something and think about our granddaughter — without remembering that she’s not really into glitter. Sometimes we buy a toy or game that is out of their age range — because our grandson is much more advanced than the average child, right? The end result is that grandchildren end up with gifts they don’t like or can’t use.
The next time you’re around your grandchildren, take a look around their rooms. Observe their activities. Find out which toys and games they play with most. Notice their wardrobes. Take notes if you have to. You’ll know your grandchildren better and be better equipped to buy them something that won’t end up at the back of the closet or the bottom of the toy box.
4. Don’t buy gifts the parents will hate.
Besides knowing your grandchildren, it’s important to know their parents. Knowing the parents’ values can keep you from a multitude of gifting sins. For example, some parents have made the decision not to give their young children access to electronics. If you give an electronic toy or gadget, you put the parents in a terrible position. Either they must take the gift away from the child, or compromise their own standards. Similarly, some parents don’t want their children to have toy guns or anything that remotely resembles a gun. Grandparents must respect such decisions.
Even if the parents of your grandchildren haven’t banned any items, it’s worth thinking about their value systems. Do they value educational toys over sports equipment, or vice versa? Are they a fun-loving family that likes raucous games, or a quieter bunch that may go for books? If the family culture doesn’t support your gift, it may never get played with, especially if the gift requires adult supervision or more than one person to play.
5. Don’t buy gifts that don’t fit the home.
Sometimes gifts given by grandparents are a good fit with family values, but a bad fit for the family home. If space is in short supply, don’t give a gift that takes up a lot of it. If there’s not much outdoor area, consider whether a gift for outside use is really practical. If your grandchild lives in a happy but messy home, toys with small parts may not be practical. If, on the other hand, the parents are on the meticulous side, they may not appreciate finger paints.
Also, don’t give noisy toys without prior approval. Some families are great with the gift of a drum set; others will be looking for any excuse to donate it to a resale shop.
Do buy gifts for grandparents and grandkids.
If you really want to give a grandchild something, and it just won’t work in their household, buy it for your own home, as long as the parents approve. If you have a lot of property, that’s a great excuse to buy sports equipment and outdoor toys for the grandchildren. Puzzles, science kits and craft sets may also find their perfect home with grandparents, who have the time, patience, and desire to share them with their grandchildren.
Of course, grandchildren should be warned ahead of time that a particular gift is going to stay at a grandparent’s house. And such gifts should be paired with gifts that can go home with a grandchild.
Remember why gifts matter.
A gift is more than something wrapped in pretty paper. A gift says to a grandchild two things: First, I see who you are. Second, this is a part of what I encourage you to be.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that gifts can’t be for pure fun. For grandparents and grandchildren, fun is a treasured family value.
Susan Adcox is a writer specializing in grandparenting topics. She is the author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.