Sibling Gift Giving

I was going to write a post about sibling gift giving, and invite ideas for group parenting advice. Then I decided I knew in advance what everyone was going to say, so I decided not to bother. Now I find I am still thinking this over a great deal, and in cases like that, I need to write it down just to get it out of my head, and so be it.


Question for parents of multiple kids out there: do your kids give gifts to your other kids? If so, how does that work?

Our kids do. Each of my kids gets four gifts on Christmas morning – one from us, one from Santa, and one from each of their siblings.

When they were little, this was easy for me to control. I just bought stuff on behalf of each kid, then presented it to them: “Look, I got you this Lego set to give to your brother!” kind of thing. They’d wrap it themselves but they had no part in the selection, or shopping, or paying.

This is actually pretty much how I still do things. Before putting together my list and doing the actual shopping part, I do ask them now if they have any ideas for their siblings (and their dad, too); and if anyone does, then I incorporate that.

Sometimes they have an idea or two, sometimes not, but I LOVE giving gifts and I LOVE making lists and so filling in the gaps has never been a problem or a chore for me, it’s a delight to make a big list for each kid and then shop away and then decide who is giving who what, like I AM AN ALL POWERFUL SANTA, thank you.

But this year I started thinking that perhaps it is time to relinquish some control to the kids themselves – not because they feel slighted or are begging to be involved or anything, but because Christmas budgeting is a skill, and thinking of a good gift for someone is a considerate thing to do, and this is something they might want to/need to/be forced to do in the future.

It is already too late for this year, but I am thinking now of how I can make this work more inclusively next year. Some ideas:

  • I take the kids to the mall and give them a budget for each of their two siblings and set them loose to find something suitable in the right price range. This is the most free-range idea.
  • I ask them to brainstorm an ideas list for me, possibly doing online research for prices as required, then pick something from the list. I would also ask them to walk through the online ordering process if this is an online order, or come with me to the store if it is a local purchase. This option sounds like homework, I can tell right now I am going to have trouble getting the oldest, at the very least, to take this on.
  • I can give them my own ideas list, and just have them pick something from it before I shop (rather than having me choose, which is what is happening right now). Then get them to do the actual shopping part as well (online or in person). This is probably the most hand-holding way to do it, but it feels more like something I could get the older kids, at least, to do – Little Miss Sunshine is a GIFT GIVER, all-caps absolutely required, so she would probably embrace any of these options.

What do you think? What works for you and your kids?

Oh, and one more thing – when did you take your kids off-budget and have them move to doing their own shopping altogether? I could say that, at age 18 say, they need to do their own shopping – but for the Captain, at least, that probably translate to no shopping whatsoever. Or I could continue to fund them and shepherd them along until they are out of college, or no longer living at home.

Or possibly until they are collecting Social Security. Sigh.

I guess there is no way to force a kid who is no longer a kid to WANT to give gifts or to CHOOSE to give gifts, so at some point I am going to have to let it go and just move on. But when? When is this magical moment? I guess I will know it when I see it? Hm.

6 thoughts on “Sibling Gift Giving

  1. My 14yo son barely remembers his own birthday, much less any other gift-giving events. So that would be a no. I do ask/make him write a letter to his older family members in Europe. Or he draws or writes cards for his grandparents. And he writes thank you letters to the far away family who gift him. But for his sister? hahaha (no)

    My 12yo though, she LOVES to give people things. But for her it’s not about shopping. She’s a crafty sort and every single birthday, Valentine’s, Halloween, Xmas, Easter and everything in between, we all get cards from her. Home made cards. One for mom, one for dad, one for her brother.

    I post those in her brother’s room so he can see them every day. I mean, it’s art, right? Designed especially for him. May as well post it for us to look at. 🙂

  2. Kayla

    I can’t speak to this as a parent (one kid, age 3), but in my family, this is what we did:

    The expectation and requirement throughout my childhood, teen, and early adult years was that we had to give a gift to each sibling. In early childhood, we went with our parents and gave input on what to give to our siblings. After a certain age (7? 8?) we used allowance money–most likely with a supplement– and allowed to pick out what we wanted to give on our own, though I’m sure that any bad ideas were kiboshed before check-out. Once we started earning our own money (12, for me), the expectation was that we would spend our own money and pick sibling gifts entirely on our own. This continued until the youngest was in her mid-20s, when we all agreed that we didn’t want so many gifts and we wanted to be mindful of differing incomes. At that point, we switched to name-draw system in which we draw a name and give one gift to one sibling. Gift-giving wasn’t and isn’t optional: it’s part of participating in the holiday and the family for us.

    And I will also add that you may want to think about pushing it with the Captain, since you think he’s likely to resist/ignore it. I think of gift-giving as a training ground for thinking about others, and it’s frequently a problem area for men in our culture. I know that when I talk with friends, I see a real pattern of men prioritizing themselves over others and acting helpless/ignorant when it comes to being thoughtful about other people. Thinking about his sister, picking out a Christmas present for her, and spending his own money on it is good practice for when he’s an adult with a wife/husband/kids/etc. of his own.

  3. KristaR

    In past years my kids have made something for each other – sometimes a drawing, sometimes a crochet scarf etc. One year W. made earrings for me, C, and his grandmas by gluing pretty pebbles to earring posts that he asked me to get for him. Now that they have their own money, they sometimes opt to buy something – something small and inexpensive like favorite candy or chocolate, When they were very little, they did not exchange anything.

  4. Leanne

    My younger two kids are at University (so, tuition poor) and my older just started her first full time job and is paying rent (so, also poor). They all buy gifts for each other at Christmas but my husband and I ‘help’. For example, if they go out Christmas shopping with us, often what they pick out for their sibling goes on my Visa. Or this year, my oldest, who is now living on the other coast, asked me to order a specific gift for her brother and have it delivered to the house. She said she’ll pay me back when she’s home (She flies in on the 23rd) but I’ll probably forget to collect that amount. So, to answer your question, in their early twenties, they all still buy for each other, they pick what it is, and they usually pay too, with a little help now and again from my hubby and I. 🙂

  5. Shan

    When they were little I would simply tag one of my gifts as if it was from one sister to another. Now both girls have jobs, Abby is 17 and has an appropriate part time job for a teen, Maya is only 13 and has a teeny 5 hours a month job, so she and I still shop together, either online or at an actual store and I will cover the cost most of the time. Abby is full out on her own for gifts and it just sort of happened organically once the job and the bank card came into the picture.

  6. Smothermother

    Only one kid, so no input on that part.

    For paying for gifts, Max for the past 2 years now has bought Marty and I gifts with his own money. For his allowance we do the Spend/Save/Share division. So he has used his Share money to buy us gifts, while supporting a charity. He is fond of WeDay so he has bought us gifts from them for the past 2 years. And have been very thoughtful.

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