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 them, 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 they'll get there.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge their 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 them to be your helper when you’re wrapping up the present or baking a treat to bring. This will help them feel included and build excitement.
  • Explain in simple terms: If Baby is fretting over not being able to blow out the candles, pull them 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 their emotions by asking what sort of party they would like to have next year, or what type of cake, to turn their frown upside down.
  • Encourage happiness for others: You want Baby to grow up being supportive of their friends and family, and this is a great first opportunity to open up a conversation with them about how it’s important to find happiness in other people’s joy. Just reminding them how happy their gift made the birthday girl feel can help them 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 their own special day, they can learn to find joy in the happiness of others by watching someone else enjoy the spotlight.

Providing them with a small token of appreciation, like a goodie bag, is a perfectly fine way to appreciate their patience, but resist the urge to give them 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 they start to get it, there’s always to option to eventually redirect their attention to eating cake. That’s enough to make any toddler smile.

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