It's Okay to Say No to a Grandchild's Gift Request

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

Pouting Birthday Girl grandparents didn't buy the gift she wanted.
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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 decided to give cash or gift cards instead of traditional gifts. Maybe you have decided to pay for an experience, such as summer camp or music lessons, instead of giving a regular gift. 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 the way that your grandchild is being brought up.


  • 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.

    It's wise to give older grandchildren some idea of what to expect in the way of holiday and birthday gifts. Here are what some grandparents do:

    • Give two gifts per grandchild. One is something the grandchild has requested, and one is a surprise.
    • Give one gift to each grandchild and make a charitable donation in each child's name.
    • Give one gift to each grandchild and one gift for all the grandchildren to share. This shared gift can be a larger toy or piece of sporting equipment that will stay at the grandparents' house so that all the children can use it when they visit.

    Some parents have adopted the four-gift policy: Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.

    This is a good policy for grandparents who have only one, two or three grandchildren, but it can be burdensome for grandparents with larger numbers of grandchildren because it means a lot of shopping and wrapping. 

    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. This or 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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