Teaching your toddler about giving gifts

“Happy birthday to… who!?”

Birthdays parties can be lots of fun: decorations, singing, and who can forget the cake? However, for toddlers, these parties can also be a bit confusing. After all, it just doesn’t seem fair that only one child gets new toys – especially for little ones whose favorite word is most likely “mine.” Though there may be some tears, birthday parties are a great learning experience, as they present the opportunity to teach Baby some valuable life lessons.

For Baby, feeling left out at a party, and wondering why there is nothing for him, isn’t about being naughty or selfish. Toddlers are naturally egocentric, as they are only just beginning to learn that there’s a whole world out there, and they aren’t at the center of it. This is a difficult concept for little ones to grasp, and it might take Baby a while to work through those feelings of confusion and jealousy, but he’ll get there.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge his feelings, and to put a positive spin on these emotions. There are ways to help Baby feel happy and included on someone else’s special day – it just might take a little extra effort.

  • Get involved: Toddlers love to help, and getting Baby involved with the party preparation can help build excitement for the event. If the party is for another sibling, for example, you could let Baby help put out some directions. If the party is being thrown by someone else, you can ask him to be your helper when you’re wrapping up the present or baking a treat to bring. This will help him feel included and build excitement.
  • Explain in simple terms: If Baby is fretting over not being able to blow out the candles, pull him aside and provide an easy explanation of how birthdays work. Say something like, “Today is Suzie’s special day, and pretty soon, you’ll also have a birthday.” You can redirect his emotions by asking what sort of party he would like to have next year, or what type of cake, to turn his frown upside down.
  • Encourage happiness for others: You want Baby to grow up being supportive of his friends and family, and this is a great first opportunity to open up a conversation with him about how it’s important to find happiness in other people’s joy. Just reminding him how happy his gift made the birthday girl feel can help him feel good for bringing someone else excitement.

Birthday parties provide a good venue for practicing important skills like sharing and waiting. Although Baby may not be thrilled to share the spotlight, or to have to wait until his own special day, he can learn to find joy in the happiness of others by watching someone else enjoy the spotlight.

Providing him with a small token of appreciation, like a goodie bag, is a perfectly fine way to appreciate his patience, but resist the urge to give him an actual gift. This practice may upset the birthday boy or girl, and will set the stage for that expectation for all parties moving forward.

If all else fails, and this isn’t the party where he starts to get it, there’s always to option to eventually redirect his attention to eating cake. That’s enough to make any toddler smile.

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