When to Say No to a Grandchild's Gift Request

3 Good Reasons For Not Buying a Particular Toy or Other Gift Item

granddaughter disappointed in gift from grandparent
As hard as it is to disappoint a grandchild, grandparents should not let themselves be pressured into buying unsuitable gifts. Photo © George Peters | Getty Images

You don't get to be a grandparent without some practice in saying no. Some of us have even learned to say no to our adult children. But a request from a grandchild? That's a different matter. And when a grandchild asks for a specific gift for a birthday or special occasion? Such requests can be very difficult to turn down.

Still, there are some excellent reasons why you might decline to purchase a specific gift for a grandchild.

Perhaps you are one of those who prefers to pick out your own gifts. Perhaps you have given up traditional gifts in favor of cash or gift cards. Maybe you have decided to give experience gifts instead. But even if none of these is true, you still have grounds for saying no to a grandchild's gift request. Here's why.

Good Reason #1: You Disapprove

You don't have to give a grandchild a gift that you disapprove of. Let's say that a grandchild has asked for a video game. You might decline to buy it because it is too violent or because it teaches negative values. Or you might decline because you would rather promote activities other than video gaming. You are within your rights for any of those reasons, but be careful not to turn your refusal into a criticism of your grandchild or of your grandchild's parenting.

  • What to say: "I'd prefer to give you something that you can play with outdoors."
  • What not to say: "You spend too much time playing video games." (This is a double whammy: a criticism of the child and the parents.)

    Good Reason #2: It Costs Too Much

    Grandchildren often have flawed perceptions about money, which can lead to their asking for something that is far too expensive. (Their parents should catch this, but sometimes they aren't privy to their kids' requests.) At any rate, don't hesitate to turn down a request for a too-expensive gift, although you could consider "going in" on the gift if you think it is worth the money.

    Another option is to offer to give the gift as a combined holiday-birthday gift. Be careful with this option, however. A grandchild may be good with this option until the next holiday rolls around with no gift. Be sure that your grandchild has the maturity to make this decision. 

    • What to say: "I can't afford to spend that much on each grandchild, so I can't spend that much on your gift."
    • What not to say: "You don't need such an expensive gift." (This sounds as if you are saying the child isn't worth it.)

    Good Reason #3: It's a Poor Quality Item

    This is the stuff of parental nightmare. A child asks Santa for a gift that's been heavily advertised but is really just a piece of junk. The parents are often in a quandary: Do they burst their child's bubble about Santa or give in and buy the piece of junk? Grandparents aren't in the same spot. They can just say no.

    • What to say: "I have something else picked out for you."
    • What not to say: "You don't really want that." (Clearly, the child does want it.)

      Managing Expectations

      One of the reasons that children in general often seem ungrateful is because they haven't been taught reasonable expectations. At Christmastime especially, they are led to believe that the sky is the limit.

      I always tell my grandchildren ahead of time exactly what to expect. It's usually two gifts apiece under my tree, one large gift (usually something they have asked for) and one small gift (usually a surprise). 

      When the grandchildren were small, I used to put a gift under the tree "for all the grandchildren." It was something that would stay at my house but that all the grandchildren could play with. Unfortunately, since some of them have outgrown toys, this strategy no longer works. (Sad face!)

      Conveying Family Values

      We often tell children that being together as a family is more important than gifts. These are empty words, however, unless our actions match our speech. If we spend the bulk of our time and energy shopping and talking about gifts, we'll never convince the grandchildren that gifts aren't the main point of a holiday. 

      Another way to introduce some perspective about gifts if to take the grandchildren with you to buy gifts for the less fortunate. Other volunteer work can help grandchildren see the bigger picture, so that acquiring the toy of the month doesn't seem so important.

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