Ending Gift-Giving for Children, Vol. 17, Issue 59

Dear Etiquetteer:

Many years ago my siblings and I mutually decided to stop exchanging gifts with one another and only give to the children. The oldest of these children is now married with children of his own and the youngest is in her mid-teens. It has been quite some time since I’ve been able to find gifts that amuse or delight them. I see them five or six times a year and they are only interested in electronic gizmos. They are not at all interested in books, which is my moderately priced gift of choice. So I have fallen into giving them some candy and money, which they thank me for but don’t really seem to care about.

When and how do I end gift giving? Do I discuss it with my nephews and nieces or with their parents? It seems a much more awkward conversation than when my siblings discontinued gift giving, because here the giving is only going in one direction.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I wish you a most happy Thanksgiving Day!

Dear Auntie:

Every family needs to handle gift-giving in the way that works for that particular family. Since your family has focused gift-giving on children, and adulthood in the United States is conferred with the right to vote at at age 18, why not present a final gift at the holiday before the child’s 18th birthday? As long as you can do this without a “This is your very last Christmas gift for me!” kind of message, it should be fine.

For your teen nephews and nieces, you need to consult with your siblings about what their children do and don’t like. Etiquetteer feels sure there’s something more to their desires than electronics. You may also want to consider the gift of an experience with you, whether that’s a live performance, a museum visit, a sports outing, or something similar.

So much of this depends on the kind of relationship you want to have with your nieces and nephews beyond the mere giving of gifts. Eventually they will be adults, and you’ll be able to maintain relationships with them without having to go through their parents. This could turn out to be rich and rewarding for both of you, especially as interests in the wider world become more prominent after puberty. Etiquetteer believes that attention given to children and teens is appreciated, even if they don’t express obvious gratitude. (Nieces and nephews of the world - is this true? Let Etiquetteer know what you think with a quick message.) While one-sided relationships often feel unrewarding, in this case Etiquetteer encourages you not to throw in the towel just yet.

When Etiquetteer first read your query the first thing to spring to mind was the Christmas card of the little Edwardian girl praying by her stocking “Dear God, Please no more educational toys!" One gift (whether they care for it or not) to consider is stationery. (Etiquetteer can just see his own nephews and niece reacting to this . . .)

Etiquetteer wishes you confidence and contentment as you approach the Holiday of Your Choice. Please do write back to let Etiquetteer know what happened.


If you’re casting around for some good gift-giving ideas that will promote Perfect Propriety, check out Etiquetteer’s 2018 holiday gift guide. If drinking gin is more your style, then reserve your tickets now for Etiquetteer’s Repeal Day Celebration at the Gibson House Museum on Friday, December 7!