Handling Holiday Gift Rivalry Among Children


Published:

You carefully shop for holiday gifts. Then, as the flurry of wrapping and ribbons settles on the living room floor, you hear a shrill, small voice whine, "Mom, she got seven presents and I only got five."

Material gifts are no substitute for parental affection. Still, kids make a connection between what parents give and how parents feel. If we teach kids that gift-giving is an expression of caring, it makes sense they'd take note of just how much loot they receive.

How much did I get?

Kids' understanding of equity-related concepts like count, cost and kind develop throughout childhood. Young kids think in concrete, egocentric terms. A toddler understands a big piece of cake is better than a small piece. A kindergartner knows seven gifts is more than five.

"Young children will be happiest with the same number of gifts, because they're usually unaware of price," says Tamara Shulman, a clinical psychologist who practices in New York City and Clifton, N.J. Older kids are more cost-aware and may choose one expensive item they really want over many less-costly ones.

Gift-related gripes are seldom about the material objects themselves, experts say; they're a reflection of the meaning kids attach to those objects. Concerns about fairness express kids' fears that parents favor one sibling more than another.

"Sibling rivalry is developmentally appropriate throughout childhood and into middle adolescence," says Stephanie Mihalas, a psychologist who works with children and families in Los Angeles, Calif. Kids complain when mom takes one child out for ice cream while the other takes her piano lesson. They're always aware of how much attention they receive.

Rivalry isn't just a developmental issue. Our society creates and reinforces the expectation that everything needs to be fair, says marriage and family therapist David Simonsen, a father of six. Because our culture equates fairness with sameness, kids today learn that everyone gets a trophy, regardless of performance. When everyone isn't treated the same, kids may feel slighted.

How much did she get?

"Kids are hypersensitive at holiday time because they're comparing gift lists with peers at school and with siblings at home," Mihalas says.

Some family situations may exacerbate fairness concerns. For instance, "children of divorced parents may pit parents against one another at holiday time," Mihalas says. A child may tell mom, "Did you know dad is going to get me a big train?" and tell dad, "Did you know mom is getting me a bike?"

Blended family dynamics are also tricky. If non-biological children feel they received less or different kinds of gifts — socks and books instead of an iPod and Uggs, for example — they may resent their stepsiblings. Feeling left out may cause kids to act out for attention or to retaliate.

Sometimes parents do discriminate, even unconsciously. "It is important that parents honestly self-evaluate to see if they are showing preferential treatment for one child over the other," says Leslie Petruk, a child and family therapist in Charlotte. Parents may buy 'better' gifts for a child whose interests match their own, or buy practical presents for one who needs items like a backpack and bike helmet. Ask each child for a wish list and use it as a shopping guide. Taking kids' preferences into account makes them feel special.

How to deal with the drama

It's impossible to win the fairness game. Even if you give each child six gifts, spend precisely the same amount, or buy each child a personalized version of the very same item, "children will always be able to find some way in which their sibling was given more or treated differently or 'better' in their view," Petruk says.

If kids raise concerns, don't get caught up in a lengthy discussion of who got more; you'll only fuel frustrations. Take a detached, inquisitive approach. Ask, "How does your gift make you feel?" or "What were you hoping to get?" Kids' answers can give parents great insight into feelings about competition and caring.

Hearing kids out doesn't mean you agree with them. Your goal is to ensure your child feels respected. Reflect her concerns back so she knows you get it, Petruk says. Say, "It sounds like you feel like your sister got more gifts then you did, and because of that, you feel like Mom and Dad love her more than we love you." Offer a hug and spend some time one-on-one. Support your child while she wrestles with her feelings.

Resist the urge to smooth over kids' sorrows or to diminish discontent with makeup gifts. "Kids need to know how to deal with disappointment," Simonsen says. "Life isn't fair." When you're tempted to give kids more stuff to stop their complaints, ask yourself, "What will this look like when they're teenagers?" A pillow pet may placate a 4-year-old, but teens want computers and cars.

Don't let equity issues put a damper on your holiday spirit. "This is a perfect opportunity to have a discussion about your family values regarding material things and your love for your children," Shulman says. Select thoughtful gifts based on kids' unique interests and wishes, and tell them you love them more than gifts could ever express. 

Heidi Smith Luedtke is a personality psychologist, freelance writer and mom of two who wants both her children to feel like her favorite.

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PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Telephone: 919-962-7529

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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
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Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

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Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

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Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

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Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

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Join us for Family Trivia Night!  Test your knowledge of pop culture, books, music and more. Pizza and drinks provided.  Call or stop by to register: 919-245-2532. Best for kids ages 8 and up...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

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Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

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Kids! Are you sick of the Winter? Enjoy a Summer's night at Peach Road Center. Enjoy a Summer-like evening with us. Get into the luau spirit and play summer games!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Peach Road Community Center
911 Ileagnes Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: City or Raleigh Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-807-8545
Contact Name: Christy Famolare

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Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Show More...
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Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Join our bird enthusiast, Vernon, for an easy walk while looking and listening for our feathered friends. Discover different types of birds and their habitats.​ No preregistration required. Meet...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

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How did people predict the weather before The Weather Channel, and can animals really help? Come to the Finley Center to put our colonial weather proverbs to the test and make a pop-up woodchuck...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is not required

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Summer Garden Camps at the JCRA invite your child to investigate nature during half or full day camps.  Campers tend to the garden, harvest vegetables, catch insects, and create crafts from the...

Cost: Varies depending on camp week

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: (919) 513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Join us to meet the educators, see the farm and learn more about our Preschool for 3-5 year olds and Camps for 4-10 year olds. We'll have a campfire for some warmth but please come dressed for the...

Cost: 0

Where:
Longleaf Forest School
4826 Mt. Moriah Road
Durhan, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Longleaf Forest School
Contact Name: Tara Lawson
Website »

More information

Chinese New Year Festival, also Lunar New Year Festival. Largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE has vocal and orchestral music, folk dance, Lion and Dragon dances, martial arts, and comic...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

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Chinese New Year Festival or Lunar New Year Festival, largest public event in the Triangle. MAIN STAGE with musical and dance performances, Lion Dance Dragon Dance, martial arts, comic skits emceed...

Cost: $10 entry at door, military and senior discounts, kids<6 free

Where:
Dorton Arena, NC State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Road
Enter Gate 1,2,4,5,11
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Sponsor: NC Triangle Area Chinese American Society
Contact Name: Michael, Shin
Website »

More information

Skate on an ice trail or free skate on 17,000 sq. ft of ice. Located in the Upper Pond of the Whitewater Center, the skating environment features three distinct programming areas and an on-ice...

Cost: 20

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Lights is a half-mile walking trail that leads viewers through a series of immersive light installations featuring  honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the...

Cost: Free

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Spanish Alive is providing Family Spanish classes starting in January! Join us to learn Spanish as an entire family in an immersive, fun environment. Our teachers are trained Spanish educators and...

Cost: $75-$216

Where:
Spanish Alive
156 E. Chatham St
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Did you know that Disney, Netflix, Google and NASA, just to name a few, are all using Python? Python can be used for creating web applications, automation, programming robots and artificial...

Cost: Free: registration required

Where:
, NC


Website »

More information

FEB. 1, 2020 | 1 – 4 P.M. | BLUE JAY POINT COUNTY PARK Spend a winter afternoon getting to know Blue Jay Point County Park at our Winter Open House. Whether you’re a regular visitor or have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Road
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Telephone: 919-870-4330
Website »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Come on out to support the NC State Gymnastics team as they take on North Carolina in a RED out on February 1st! The first 300 fans in attendance will receive an exclusive red NC State Gymnastics...

Cost: $3-$7

Where:
Reynolds Collisuem
2411 Dunn Ave.
Raleigh , NC  27607
View map »

More information

Hounded by Death, the character of Everybody desperately seeks out everyone and everything they know in hope of finding something meaningful to take to the grave. These 90 minutes of theatrical...

Cost: Ticket prices start at $15

Where:
PlayMakers' Repertory Company
120 Country Club Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Telephone: 919-962-7529

More information

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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.